This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
For the first time since 2007, the Philadelphia School District heard applications for new charter schools Monday.
For years, citing the costs of growing the charter sector, the District has imposed a moratorium on new charter expansion. That changed this year because of an amendment written by Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) that was added to the state cigarette tax authorization bill.
During the moratorium, the District has opened Renaissance charters, where operators are required to serve all students within defined neighborhood boundaries.
Taylor’s amendment also allows rejected applicants to seek redress with the state Charter Appeals Board.
The District received 40 applications by the Nov. 15 deadline. The state’s charter school law requires districts to hold at least one public hearing on applications within 45 days of receipt.
On the first of four days of hearings, the District’s Charter School Office heard pitches for seven charters: Germantown Community, Philadelphia Career & Technical, Liguori Academy, the Partnership School for Science & Innovation (MaST) and three String Theory campuses in East Falls, Grays Ferry, and Pennsport.
Each applicant had 15 minutes to make a presentation at the hearing.
Wearing green T-shirts, Germantown Community Charter’s supporters made up a large chunk of the onlookers at the onset of the hearing. They hope to reoccupy Germantown High School, which the District shuttered in 2013, with a charter for grades 6-12, serving 1,050 students.
"This application represents community power," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member of Germantown United Community Development Corp. "This application could be the cornerstone of what we’re trying to accomplish in Germantown."
Joe Budd, of the nonprofit Men Who Care of Germantown, said the closed building has become an "eyesore" that is "driving property values down" and increasing crime.
Germantown Community Charter’s pitch cited a dearth of other good public school options in the area and referred to the possible closures of three other nearby charter options: Imani, Imhotep, and New Media.
The group said its charter would be a "community school" that focused in part on preparing students for careers in hospitality, tourism, and construction. The group’s architectural redesign plan envisions a restaurant and a boutique hotel to be developed on the existing school property.
The Philadelphia Career & Technical Academy Charter School also proposed a new charter in Germantown – a 600-student high school where students would earn certifications necessary to gain employment in industries such as nursing, automotive repair, culinary arts, computers, and business administration.
Organizers guaranteed "top notch internship and externship options."
The school’s application was organized by WAY Haberdashery, a nonprofit group that provides business and professional clothing to men, women and youth.
The Partnership School for Science & Innovation, a school focused on math, science and technology proposed by the existing MaST charter, hopes to attract and retain families in the Center City zip codes that have seen a population surge over the last decade.
MaST CEO John Swoyer said the school would also enroll 20 percent of its students from the city’s most impoverished zip codes.
MaST’s PowerPoint presentation highlighted the fact that two of Center City’s high-performing neighborhood elementary schools, Meredith and McCall, are now enrolling students beyond capacity.
Organizers say they hope to locate the school on Market Street. MaST cited a location in South Philadelphia as its first choice on its application, which was explained as an "error" at the meeting.
The school hopes to grow to 1,500 students in K-12. Swoyer proposed opening a kindergarten and a 9th grade in 2016.
MaST will testify Friday about a proposed open-catchment charter to be located on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Lower Northeast.
Liguori Academy, a charter based on the philosophies of an 18th-century Catholic bishop, aims to create a high school for students most at-risk of becoming dropouts.