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With days until deadline, 46 new charter applications

The District is asking universities for volunteers to help evaluate them.

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

The deadline for filing is not until Nov. 15, but the School District of Philadelphia already has 46 letters of intent from groups wanting to open new charter schools.

It is seeking help to evaluate them all.

A letter sent to universities says that "budgetary constraints require the District to seek application reviewers who are willing to give of their expertise on a volunteer basis."

With only six people, the District’s Charter School Office is severely understaffed.

The School Reform Commission hasn’t considered new charter applications since 2007. But legislation approved in September, which authorized a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to help close the District’s budget gap, attached a condition: that it reopen the charter application process.

The law also specified that the state Charter Appeals Board will be able to review denials. Under the law that created the SRC, its word has been final on charter rejections, unlike in the rest of the state.

Since the moratorium, existing charter schools and organizations that have been chafing under the restrictions on expanding or opening new campuses are gearing up for this new round.

Independence Charter School sent a letter out announcing that it is seeking to open a new elementary school and a high school in West Philadelphia that would give priority enrollment to those in the 19143 and 19139 zip codes. It sent a letter to parents, urging them to write to the District’s Charter Schools Office expressing their support for the new schools.

At a rally of charter supporters this afternoon, KIPP, Mastery, Freire, Boys’ Latin and Esperanza also said that they planned to submit applications, according to NewsWorks.

American Paradigm Schools runs three charter schools in Philadelphia: First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School, Tacony Academy Charter School, and Memphis Street Academy Charter School, which is a Renaissance charter, or converted District school. It spent most of its history as John Paul Jones junior high, and then middle, school.

On Nov. 3 and 4, American Paradigm announced over social media that it would be submitting applications to open new charter schools in the 19111 and 19134 zip codes, which are in the Northeast.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard said the District was putting together review teams for the applications and "expects to make an annoucnement on the applications received early next week."

The letter to the universities said that each team would combine internal and external reviewers and that no person would be asked to evaluate more than three applications.

The letter also asked for people who had "experience teaching or leading in public schools, but charter school experience is not required. Reviewers should have a working knowledge of the programming and staffing needs of a successful school. Currently, there is a particular need for reviewers with expertise in Special Education and [English Language Learner] programming, but all reviewers who meet the criteria above are welcome."

The District stopped considering new charters, officials said, because rapid charter expansion was financially unsustainable under the current method for funding District and charter schools. It did, however, continue its Renaissance initiative, turning over low-performing District schools to charter organizations, which it has said is less expensive.

Now, some 60,000 students, about a third of those in the city who attend schools funded by taxpayers, go to charters. Charters are independently operated, but paid for with public money. In Pennsylvania, the host school district authorizes new charters and is charged with monitoring them.

Additional reporting by online editor David Limm.

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