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Gates: Philly charter “Compact” not ready – yet

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Avi Wolfman-Arent and Benjamin Herold

UPDATED 12/8 with comment from Lori Shorr

Philadelphia’s shot at a piece of Bill Gates’ largesse is on hold – for the moment.

On Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that two districts, Chicago and Houston’s Spring Branch, are newly eligible to compete for roughly $40 million in grant funds to support district-charter collaborations. They join 12 previously named districts.

Despite the School Reform Commission’s recent approval of a new “Great Schools Compacttailored to meet the foundation’s criteria, however, Philadelphia was not selected publicly announced as eligible to move on.

“Philadelphia did submit a draft Compact,” said Deborah Veney Robinson, the senior communications officer at the Gates Foundation. “However, it lacked the detail, rigor, and specificity we’re looking for.”

Nevertheless, Robinson said Philadelphia remains a strong candidate and will likely have a revised Compact approved prior to December 31.

“We’re very optimistic, given the early drafts of the Compact and subsequent conversations among key constituents, that Philadelphia will form a strong Compact that we can approve,” wrote Robinson in an email to the Notebook.

Lori Shorr, the city’s chief education officer and new "executive advisor" to the SRC and District, was also upbeat about Philadelphia’s standing.

"There will be a positive announcement on Philly’s Gates award very soon," said Shorr. "I am excited about the future work of the Compact for the city."

If When that happens, the District would receive $100,000 in planning money and the right to compete for a multiyear grant likely to be in the “multimillion dollar range.”

The “Great Schools Compact” approved by the SRC last month involves the city and state, as well as the District and two of the state’s largest umbrella organizations for charter schools. It calls for eliminating 50,000 seats in low-performing schools and replacing them with higher-quality options through school closings, charter conversions, and other strategies.

The Compact would also require participating charters to adopt a common accountability metric. In exchange, high-performing charters would be able to expand their enrollments more easily.

Representatives from Chicago and Spring Branch, who spoke in a conference call with reporters, were enthusiastic about joining the growing list of cities eligible for the Gates money.

“I’m looking forward to the benefits our students will receive from a more unified system,” said Jean-Claude Brizard, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Vicki Phillips, director of the Gates Foundation’s education program, considers public-charter integration crucial to national education reform.

“All of the compacts are helping to develop and push into districts innovative practices … that can be emulated across the country,” Phillips said.