Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools

Part 103 of 102 in the series Educating America

CHARTERS: At a marathon meeting, the School Reform Commission adopted a new policy and suspended a school’s charter.

By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — The strained relationship between the School District of Philadelphia and the 86 public charter schools under its authority continues.

As part of a six-hour School Reform Commission meeting Thursday night, five charter schools came up for renewal and one — Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners — was singled out for suspension of its charter because of academic and financial concerns, a new preemptive move by the district.

Deputy superintendent Paul Kihn outlined the Authorizing Quality Initiative, which includes such changes as moving the district’s charter office to report directly to the SRC and giving the commission the power to stop making payments to a charter school if a dispute arises.

This comes after the SRC adopted a measure in August to suspend provisions of the Pennsylvania’s public school code to impose enrollment caps and eliminate a charter school’s last recourse to the state’s Department of Education to receive money for students.

At least one charter school has filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court on grounds that it’s unconstitutional for the SRC to unilaterally ignore regulations or enforce new ones.

Further problems arose because the district office that oversees the schools operates with a staff of only six people and no executive director. Yet 35 percent of students in the district attend charter schools, making Philadelphia the most active charter sector in Pennsylvania.

Commissioner Sylvia Simms asked Kihn what the office intended to do with no one in charge. He said the schools are conducting a nationwide search and hope to hire someone in the next five to six weeks.

The SRC voted to approve the new charter school policy, 4-1.

Regarding the future of Walter D. Palmer, Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones came forward to ask the commission to “suspend the suspension.”

“When it comes to parents, students and schools, stability is important. Predictability is important,” said Jones.

“We have not had any notice to close our school,” said Walter D. Palmer, the 80-year-old founder.

The SRC voted — 4-1 — to begin the process of revoking Walter D. Palmer’s charter.

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