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Independence Charter, two Catholic schools to receive $344K in PSP grants

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

A charter school and two Catholic elementary schools will receive three grants totaling $343,600, the Philadelphia School Partnership announced Wednesday.

St. Thomas Aquinas School in South Philadelphia and St. Helena-Incarnation School in Olney will receive $275,000 in turnaround grants to help improve the schools’ academics and long-term financial footing. The schools are part of the Independence Mission Schools network. The nonprofit last year took over running 13 formerly parish and interparochial schools, most of which had seen years of declining enrollment.

PSP says that the money will aid in the "transformation" of these schools, both of which have majority non-Catholic and ethnically diverse student bodies. Both are also underperforming when compared to averages for city Catholic schools in reading, writing, and math test scores. Each will get about $137,000.

Both schools have the capacity to expand their enrollments, PSP said.

Independence Charter School, long one of the city’s most coveted, will receive $68,600 from the education-reform nonprofit’s Great Schools Fund for support in planning the school’s expansion. The K-8 Center City charter, which now enrolls 814 students, plans to use the money to add another K-8 school or a high school, according to PSP.

“Demand for Independence Charter School is extremely high,” said Jessica Pena, director of PSP’s Great Schools Fund. "They receive hundreds of applications every year for less than 50 kindergarten slots."

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Independence Charter received a score of 79 on the School Performance Profile, the state’s school rating system. PDE considers scores above 70 as indicative of a successful school. The school’s population is 53 percent economically disadvantaged.

Independence Charter’s enrollment is now capped by the District at 800 students. To add more students, the school will have to seek a new agreement with the School Reform Commission. Citing finances, the SRC has been capping enrollment as a condition of renewing charter schools.

The SRC argues that it cannot plan financially or meet the needs of District-run schools if charter growth continues unchecked. Now, more than $700 million of its $2.8 billion budget goes toward charter payments.

The Philadelphia School Partnership, through its Great Schools Fund, has sought to raise $100 million to help targeted schools increase the pace of success by seeding innovation and supporting the expansion of successful schools.

“To improve education across the city, there needs to be continuing innovation in all three sectors – district, charter and private,” said Mark Gleason, head of PSP, in a statement. “These grants address the unique needs and opportunities of two school models in both the public and private sector and the demand from families for more high-quality schools.”

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