This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In a bipartisan 42-9 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a school code bill Thursday evening that would require the state to take drastic intervention at five "persistently low-achieving" schools per year.
The "opportunity schools" legislation says the state secretary of education will have discretion to choose the five schools from a list of chronic low performers as measured by the state’s school performance profile index. Only a "school district of the first class" would be affected: namely, Philadelphia.
The schools would then come under the purview of the Pennsylvania Department of Education for at least three years.
The education department would have five intervention options:
- Turn over operations of the school to an outside education management organization
- Convert the school into a neighborhood-based charter
- Close the school and facilitate transfering students to higher performing schools
- Authorize a new charter and guarantee admission preference to students who reside in the area around the low performing school
- Replace the principal and at least half of the school’s staff
A school district or charter school can appeal the designation of its school as a "chronic low performer" within 30 days.
As part of its power as overseer of the "opportunity schools," the Pennsylvania Department of Education would have wide leeway to make staffing changes as it sees fit.
The department could hire employees and managers who do not hold state certification. Employees could be reassigned, suspended or dismissed at will.
Each of the seven state senators who represent Philadelphia voted for the bill.
Sources say the votes were a necessary tradeoff in order to secure the roughly $100 million funding boost that would come to city schools as part of the budget framework agreed to by Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders.