This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Once a hotbed of charter school expansion, Philadelphia has seen charter applications slow to a trickle.
Just four organizations applied for new charters during the 2016-17 application cycle. The District has also decided not to grow its Renaissance schools program, through which charter operators take over struggling traditional public schools.
As a result, 2017 is shaping up to be a relatively quiet one on the charter front in the city.
Two years ago — in exchange for state approval of a city cigarette tax — the District re-opened its charter process and received nearly 40 applications. Last year, 12 organizations applied for a charter.
Some charter advocates see the slowdown in applications as evidence that Philadelphia has become unfriendly to charter expansion and that prospective applicants are steering clear rather than contend with a tougher application process.
"People are happier to see us in other places sometimes — or we feel more welcome," said Laurada Byers, co-founder of Russell Byers Charter School and board chair of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence.
Since reopening its charter process in 2014, the School Reform Commission has beefed up the charter office while committing to a more thorough and formalized process for approving new charters. Approval rates, meanwhile, have been low.
Over the last two application cycles, the SRC has received 51 applications and ultimately approved nine, a success rate of roughly 18 percent. Nationally, the charter approval rate hovers around 35 percent, according to data collected by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
The low odds in Philadelphia have become a deterrent for some applicants, Byers said.