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Was school choice on Tuesday’s ballot in Philadelphia?

Photo: Kimberly Paynter | WHYY

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

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Three billionaires gave more than $6 million to support a candidate in favor of school choice, namely State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, in this year’s Democratic primary for Philadelphia mayor.

But at the polls Tuesday night, voters pushed more buttons for public education stalwarts like Helen Gym instead.

Although the mayoral candidates resisted being painted with a broad brush on education — traditional public vs. charter — in the days leading up to the election, endorsements seemed to paint a different picture. PACs backing Williams that were funded by pro-school choice billionaires put out ads, while the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers stumped for former City Councilman Jim Kenney, who won the Democratic nomination.

NewsWorks reached out to some educators and advocates and asked whether the results constitute a reckoning for charter schools.

Similarities of candidates

As WHYY’s Dave Davies wrote in his election recap, education was talked about a great deal in the lead-up to the primary, but not actually that much of a deciding factor.

Supporters of Williams, including former City Councilman George Burrell, agreed. He said education wasn’t that divisive during the race because sides never crystallized.

"I think that the charter debate never became a real issue in the debate. … All the candidates said they were for good schools, whether they’re public schools, charter schools, or parochial schools," said Burrell, now the chief operating officer of Universal Companies, which runs some charter schools.

Other members of the charter school community also resisted stark categorization of the candidates.

Ben Speicher, principal of KIPP Elementary charter school, tweeted about his choices: Williams and Gym, who has championed accountability in the School District and more funding for public schools.

.@JoinTeamTony gets my vote for his support of high quality education for all kids in Philly.

— Ben Speicher (@benspeicher) May 19, 2015

Disagree w/lots of details re: education w/ @HelenGym2015 but we need more people w/her commitment to Philly in office. She got my vote.

— Ben Speicher (@benspeicher) May 19, 2015

Whither the charter school voting bloc?

With more than 60,000 children in charter schools in Philadelphia and more on waitlists, charter schools would seem to have a lot of voters to mobilize. No one had a definitive answer on where these votes went, but some shared their theories.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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