For First Time in Years, Philadelphia Approves New Charter Schools


After seven years without approving any new charter schools, Philadelphia has learned they will be gaining 5.

Formed in 2001 during a state takeover of the city’s education system as a result of financial issues and low test scores, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved 5 of the 39 applications for charter schools they received this year.  The rest were denied.

There are currently 86 charter schools in the district.  While supporters of charter schools believe they give students an option that allows them to leave low-performing schools, critics argue that they make financial struggles in a district even worse.

The American Federation of Teachers routinely fights against the increase of charter schools across the nation, including in Philadelphia.  The AFT argues that some schools fail and they lack accountability and transparency.

Not everyone agrees.

“There is an opportunity here to save a lot of kids,” said Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai, a Republican and a charter school advocate, in an interview.

Charter schools across Pennsylvania continue to proliferate despite not granting new licenses in years, as the district continues to turn under-performing schools into charter schools, and those already in existence see an increase in enrollment.

In 2007, charter school enrollment in Philadelphia was at 32,000 students and since has doubled.  The schools currently educate 30% of of the 207,000 students in the district, or about 64,000 students.

Charter schools also make up a third, or $766.7 million, of the district’s $2.5 billion budget.  Charter schools accounted for 18%, or $430 million, of the budget in 2011, writes Daniel Kelley for Reuters.

Critics argue that approving new charter schools could take resources away from current public schools in the district.  When students transfer to a charter school, their funding goes with them, although the public schools retain fixed costs including building maintenance and central administration.

Charter schools receive $10,000 for each student they enroll — the same amount that public schools receive for each of their students.  However, an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group found that each student who transfers to a charter school ends up costing the public school system an average of $7,000.

“It’s a loss and it needs to be funded. It has to be taken from somewhere,” said Joseph Dworetzky, a former member of the School Reform Commission. “You end up with students and families not transferring to charter schools having a reduction in what is being spent on their education.”

SRC Chairman Bill Green said money did not play a role in the decision to approve or deny any of the charter applications, and that the new schools would not affect the overall budget for next year.

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