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School choice advocates rally for greater charter expansion

Photo: Emma Lee/WHYY

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

Philadelphia charter school parents, students, leaders and advocates rallied Tuesday outside School District headquarters, calling on the School Reform Commission to approve more charters.

A few hundred people listened to impassioned testimony from parents of students at Mastery, KIPP, Freire, and Boys’ Latin, and a student from Esperanza Academy.

"Your address should not determine whether you can get a great education," said Elaine Wells, parent of two students at Boys’ Latin. "That is insanity."

Freire Charter parent Anthony Harris lamented that the traditional public schools in his West Philly neighborhood were "failing."

He says Freire, which hopes to open a second high school campus for 580 students in Center City, gave his daughter "tools to learn with."

Vanessa Herrera, a senior at Esperanza Academy Charter School, said the school has given her more self-confidence and has helped her connect more strongly with her Latino culture.

"I was fortunate enough to be selected through the lottery. Unfortunately there are hundreds of students on a waiting list," said Herrera, urging the SRC to allow Esperanza to open a new K-5 charter.

Aside from the Renaissance initiative — in which charters assume control of a District neighborhood school — the SRC hasn’t authorized a new charter since 2007.

Charter advocates hope that trend will soon reverse as the SRC begins to abide by the new state measure that compels the five-member panel to consider new applications. If rejected by the SRC, applicants can now appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board. Unlike districts across the rest of the state, Philadelphia had previously been exempt from the appeals process. That stemmed from when the state took over the District and formed the SRC in 2001.

The legislative change was passed in September as an amendment to the cigarette-tax authorization bill. State Rep. John Taylor, Philadelphia’s lone Republican in Harrisburg, said its addition to the bill was crucial in corralling more GOP support for the $2-per pack tax hike.

"It was another reason that a member that wasn’t from Philly that would be subject to criticism for making a quote-unquote tax vote would vote for it," Taylor said in July after he pushed to have the amendment added.

Some education advocates fear that the measure could lead to unfettered charter expansion, which they say could doom a District that’s already standing on tenuous fiscal ground. The District estimates that it incurs $5,000 in stranded costs – dollars some describe as "lost to education" – for every child who migrates from one of its schools to a charter.

With these numbers in mind, District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the SRC would follow the law in hearing new applications, "but [would] also will keep in mind the financial limitations that the District finds itself in."

"One scenario could be that as charter schools close, we have the ability to open others," said Gallard.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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