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SRC suspends 2 sections of school code

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

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to suspend the section of the state charter law preventing the District from putting caps on charter school enrollment.

This is the latest move in a running disagreement with charter operators over the SRC’s imposition of caps. The District lost a court case in April involving the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School. Commonwealth Court ruled against the District’s imposition of caps.

The SRC acted by a 4-0 vote and without discussion. But in the past, the SRC has argued that without the ability to impose enrollment caps, it would be unable to plan and that the District cannot afford uncontrolled charter growth given its dire fiscal condition.

The District has been expanding charter seats through its Renaissance Schools initiative, in which low-performing schools are converted to charters.

The SRC claims the ability to suspend the law under special powers that were given to it when the state declared the School District distressed and took it over in 2001.

It also voted 4-0 to suspend the section of the school code requiring it to hold hearings on individual school closings at least three months before the decision is finalized.

The SRC suspended this same provision last year, but only after it had identified the schools it intended to close and held extensive hearings. However, this time, the SRC has not yet identified any of the schools – it said it may have to shutter anywhere between 29 and 57.

The District’s spokesperson, Fernando Gallard, said that the SRC is planning to hold hearings on school closings but wants to waive this provision to expedite the process.

Update: Citing grim financial circumstances, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said after the meeting that suspending the restriction on charter caps would give the District some flexibility it needs to manage the situation.

"We know that under the five-year plan, predictability is critical," Ramos said. "It’s life and death."

Officials said the target date for releasing school-closing recommendations is now sometime in early December. Ramos promised an "exhaustive" process of community feedback on those recommendations similar to last year’s. How the suspension of the three-month waiting period for school-closing decisions would affect the District’s overall timeline for school closings was something Ramos said he did not want to speculate about.

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