Phila. schools see 40 applications for new charters

Posted: November 18, 2014

Talk about pent-up demand.

After the Philadelphia School District announced that it would accept applications for new charter schools for the first time in seven years, it received 40, the district said Monday.

If the School Reform Commission approves them all, the schools eventually could add 40,341 more seats in charter schools in a district that already has 67,000 - or more than one-third - of its students enrolled in charters.

The vast majority of the proposals - 29 - were from operators of existing charters in the city, including KIPP Philadelphia, Freire, Mastery, MAST, Global Leadership, Franklin Towne, Independence, and Green Woods.

The remaining 11 came from people who are not running charters in the city now, although a few have administrative experience with them.

Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCan, a state group that advocates expanding school choice, said Monday's announcement was "great news for the 40,000 families on charter-school waiting lists" and anyone who supports greater educational opportunities for families.

Cetel said that many of the proposals were submitted by groups that run "incredibly high-performing charters that are vastly outperforming neighborhood schools."

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said each of the proposals would be reviewed thoroughly and hearings would be held within 45 days. Gallard said the district aims to begin holding them before the winter holidays.

As the Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported last week, Gallard said the district's charter office had asked educational experts at area colleges and universities to serve on panels to help with the review.

"We would have done that one way or another, given the size of the task," Gallard said.

In October, the district announced it would accept new charter applications for the first time since 2007 to comply with the requirements of the state law that authorized a $2-per-pack cigarette tax for city schools. The measure also gives rejected applicants the right to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg.

Officials of the cash-strapped district have said proposals will be considered "in the context of the district's budgetary constraints."

Matthew Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said Monday his office would provide information to the SRC about the costs of the individual proposals.

"Any time you open a new school, whether it's a district school or a charter school, there are costs associated with the opening," he said. "We have to look at the entire portfolio of schools. And when we see the applications, we have to weigh the cost against the benefits it may provide students."

Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which supports increasing the number of seats at high-performing schools, said in a statement: "The opportunity to create effective new charter schools is great news for low-income and minority families in Philadelphia."

He added: "As the SRC faces tough decisions about how to spend its limited resources in the coming months, I hope the debate will center on what is working for kids and families."

During the last academic year, Gleason said, the district spent about $140 million to operate district schools that scored less than 40 on the state's school performance profile. The education secretary has said a score of 70 indicates that a school is moving in a positive direction.


martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789

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