This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to approve three new charter schools Tuesday night – increasing the city’s charter options by 2,024 seats. SRC members also were caught off guard by a new ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Of 12 applicants, the SRC approved a middle school run by Russell Byers in Center City, a K-12 school run by KIPP in Strawberry Mansion, and an elementary school run by Esperanza in Hunting Park.
None will open until the 2017-18 school year. The final agreements will depend on the operators consenting to the SRC’s requested conditions.
The SRC wants Esperanza and Russell Byers to agree to fewer students than they had requested, while granting only a three-year charter instead of five.
Specifically, the SRC asked Russell Byers to either reduce requested enrollment from 320 to 214 in its middle school, or accept an amendment to its existing elementary school charter that would allow middle grades, but cap total enrollment at 699.
Similarly, the SRC asked Esperanza to either reduce requested enrollment from 800 to 430 in its elementary school, or agree to a K-12 charter that would cap total enrollment at 800.
The SRC agreed to a five-year deal with KIPP to open a K-12 school in Strawberry Mansion serving 1,380 students. KIPP’s application to open a new school in West Philadelphia was denied.
KIPP CEO Marc Mannella was puzzled because the applications were "really similar," but he stressed an upbeat tone.
"We’re really focused on the positive tonight," he said. The SRC delivered KIPP a similarly mixed message last February. Ultimately, KIPP overcame its denial with a successful resubmission.
Before the votes, State Sen. Vincent Hughes urged the SRC to consider the fiscal toll that authorizing new charters would take on the District’s resource-strapped schools. And he warned against banking on Gov. Wolf’s massive education funding proposals.
"Quite frankly, there’s no end in sight with respect to new funding from Harrisburg," said Hughes (D-Philadelphia).
But the SRC does not believe that it can take that information into account, as Commissioner Bill Green explained in his response to Hughes.
"The one thing Pennsylvania law does not permit is for us to consider the finances of the district in the approval or denial of a charter application," Green said.
District officials could not immediately put a dollar figure on how much the three new schools could cost.
In the midst of the meeting — unrelated to the business at hand — the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a long-awaited ruling that could have widespread implications on city public schools.
The court ruled that the SRC does not have special powers to suspend sections of the school code.