Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check

Part 57 of 57 in the series Educating America

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Leaders of Philadelphia’s charter school movement say they “support the philosophy” of Superintendent William Hite’s latest scheme to improve education.

Action Plan for School District of Philadelphia includes limiting the seats in charter schools.

“But the devil’s in the details,” said Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

Hite released his Action Plan v2.0 for the School District of Philadelphia on Monday calling for improved education across the broad spectrum of public schools, but the plan continues the movement to single out charter schools as an area to curb costs.

Hite’s plan recognizes the initial success of turning around low-performing schools through the Renaissance Initiative, the program that turns management of those schools over to charter operators. However, the plan’s attitude toward charter schools suggests it will maintain strict control as a way to cope with its dire financial situation.

There are 60,000 students in Philadelphia charter schools now, an increase of 45,000 during the past decade.

District officials claim they will have to spend $25 million more than budgeted for students at charter schools because more students than anticipated have chosen to attend the alternative public schools.

Already facing fiscal distress, the SDP’s solution is to keep a hard limit on the number of seats in charter schools.

In December, the district set a deadline for charter schools to adopt enrollment caps — something that is illegal in Pennsylvania, but possible in Philadelphia because the School Reform Commission has the authority to suspend portions of the Public School Code.

It appears the SRC will follow through with that threat to hold back the rising tide of charter school growth.

“The District will continue working on behalf of the SRC to ensure all charter schools have signed charter agreements and manage their enrollment to ensure that they stay within their enrollment limits,” Hite’s plan reads.

Some charter schools are already at maximum capacity and have an agreement with the district on the number of students they will admit. Some, however, are resisting limits, putting themselves in legal limbo.

Enrollment caps are especially problematic for the high-performing charter schools in Philadelphia that have waiting lists in the thousands.

“All it really does is limit opportunity and put the priority of money ahead of children,” Fayfich said.

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

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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