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Kihn: It’s a misconception that Renaissance charters will get ‘extra’ money

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

Updated | 11:21 a.m.

Philadelphia Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said this weekend that, contrary to some media reports, schools that opt to become Renaissance charters next year won’t be getting several thousand additional dollars for each pupil.

“The finances of this are so commonly misunderstood,” Kihn said after making a presentation at the American Educational Research Association conference. “From a student and family’s perspective, [a school gets] exactly the same money if it’s run by the District or run by a charter.”

Kihn said the confusion started with media reports that misreported the Renaissance charter program’s impact on the District’s budget.

The Notebook correctly reported the District’s assertion that converting a school to a Renaissance charter costs the District about $4,000 extra per student. That’s because, even when a student moves to a charter school, the District not only pays the charter a per-pupil fee, but also is left with certain “stranded costs,” mostly personnel that are shared by multiple schools, such as psychologists and speech therapists.

Other news outlets, though, have incorrectly reported that new Renaissance charters would receive an extra $4,000 per student.

That widely repeated notion – cited by several speakers and attendees at various AERA panels – led critics like Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, to blast the District for offering a “false choice” that would “dangle millions of dollars in front of parents.”

Later this spring, parents at the two proposed 2014 Renaissance schools, Edward Steel Elementary and Luis Muñoz-Marin Elementary, will be asked to vote on whether their schools should be managed by charter providers (Mastery and ASPIRA, respectively) or remain union-staffed and District-managed.

Kihn said parents at Steel and Muñoz-Marin need to know that no matter how they vote, their schools will receive “exactly” the same amount of financial support.

“Whether that school’s run by the District or the charter operator, the kids are getting the same [money],” Kihn said.

And although he said he was frustrated by persistent misconceptions – “nobody gets it; the media doesn’t get it” – Kihn also acknowledged that in the end, it is up to the District to clear up confusion and make sure Renaissance parents know what they’re voting for.

“We have to do a much, much, much better job,” Kihn said.

The fourth paragraph was updated to reflect that the $4,000-per-student assertion has not yet been detailed by the District and to better explain the concept of "stranded costs."

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