Philadelphia to Consider Applications for New Charter Schools

The Philadelphia School District will be accepting applications for new charter schools for the first time in seven years.

“We are cautiously optimistic about this,” said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

However, due to a lack of funds, applications will be considered “in the context of the district’s budgetary constraints.”

The district is already losing students to charter schools and is no longer reimbursed for this loss.  The district is losing money and students while other costs for the public school system remain the same.

There are currently 86 charter schools in the district enrolling over 67,000 students and reducing the district’s budget by 30%.

Charter schools are independently-run institutions funded by tax dollars.  Districts also give them per-pupil funding based on a state-created formula.

The formula has not changed much since the charter school law went into effect in 1997.  Many feel that it is out-of-date, but no agreements have been made over which parts should be changed.

While charter schools feel they are underfunded and want more from the public school system, districts feel their funds are being depleted by charter schools.

Applications are being accepted as part of the state’s recent cigarette tax law, which allows Philadelphia to place a tax of $2 a pack on cigarettes in order to provide more funding for schools.  The tax is expected to generate $170 million for the district.

State Rep. John Taylor wrote the law in such a way that the district would be required to accept new charter applications.  Those applicants who are rejected are then allowed the right to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg.

“The School District is moving forward with developing an application process for organizations and individuals interested in applying for a charter,” District spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

Letters of intent are due by October 15 for those looking to open a charter in 2015-16.  Applications are due by 5pm November 15.

The district will weigh proposals on several factors, including academics, finances, and community support.

Under the district’s Renaissance Charter School program, the School Reform Commission has also selected operators to convert 20 under-performing public schools in the district into charters.

“It’s really encouraging that the School District is doing this,” Fayfich said. “There are between 30,000 and 35,000 children in Philadelphia on charter waiting lists.”

Last month, a lawsuit brought on by a Philadelphia charter school centered around the level of control the School Reform Commission should have over charter school enrollment when the district itself was facing an $81 million deficit.