PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly

Part 123 of 122 in the series Educating America

Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted charter school’s request for preliminary injunction.

By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — The relationship between the School District of Philadelphia and the 86 public charter schools in the city has grown strained as financial struggles have intensified.

Now, like a parent breaking up a fight between two children, the state Supreme Court has now stepped in.

In March, a charter school filed a lawsuit against the district and the School Reform Commission over the legality of the SRC’s suspensions of the school code to enforce enrollment caps and withhold per-pupil payments.

West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School requested a preliminary injunction to prevent the school district from taking action against the school. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted that last week, moving the case forward.

The outcome could be relevant to the entire charter sector in Pennsylvania.

“The implications are potentially huge because it deals with the constitutionality of the SRC to suspend rules for charter schools,” said Bob O’Donnell, lead attorney for the plaintiff.

If the district wins, he said, it could open up the possibility of other school districts across the commonwealth seeking the same authority to control enrollment and therefore the cost of students attending charter schools.

There are more than 65,000 students currently in Philadelphia charter schools. This number has been growing and so has the budget. Approximately $8,500 follows each student from the district into a charter school. It’s $22,000 for students with special needs.

Charter payments for 2013-2014 exceeded expectations by $25 million.

The district’s solution has been to keep children out of charter schools. Under Pennsylvania law, enrollment caps are only acceptable if the charter school agrees to it. In Philadelphia, the SRC has ignored that and begun to require schools to write limits into their charters or face non-renewal or revocation, essentially ending the schools’ ability to operate.

The SRC set the limit for West Philadelphia Achievement at 400, but the school serves about 600 students. With the district refusing to pay for some 200 students, the school has turned to the state Department of Education for reimbursement.

However, the SRC blocked that last recourse as well with its adoption of SRC-1 in August.

The school district will not comment on an active case.

The court has asked both sides to submit written briefs. Oral arguments are scheduled for September.

Contact Maura Pennington at and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.