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Turzai accuses District of “overreach” and “constant attack” on charters

House speaker suggests that funding might be affected

State Rep. Mike Turzai.
Emma Lee/WHYY

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

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Hours before the School Reform Commission is scheduled to consider the renewals of 10 charters, House Speaker Mike Turzai sent members a letter expressing concerns that the District "is trying to drastically overstep both the spirit and letter of existing charter school law."

Echoing complaints by several charter schools that have declined to sign renewal agreements, The letter cites "overreaches" by the Charter Schools Office, saying they are "intended to ensure the charter schools cannot continue or at the very least purposely make it difficult for them to operate. It is time for the District and the School Reform Commission to focus on the ‘kids’ and not their ‘turf.’ Stop the games."

Twenty-six schools are up for renewal, and 14 have yet to sign agreements. The charter office recommended two charters for nonrenewal, and only one is being recommended for renewal without any conditions attached.

Turzai’s letter says that the District is investing in "lawyers and bureaucrats" to perpetuate the "constant fighting" between the District and charters. The letter also implies that the District wants to shut down all charters.

"If the District succeeds in shutting down these schools, what is the District’s plan to educate sixty thousand plus students that would be returning to the traditional public schools? Is the District afraid that thousands more students want to attend charter schools and are trying to hold off opportunities for more of the children in Philadelphia to attend these schools?"

And he suggests that the SRC’s action on charters could have an effect on the District’s level of state aid.

"As the state budget talks begin in earnest, it is tough to justify increases in expenditures to the School District of Philadelphia if the additional money is going to pay for lawyers to draft contracts which go beyond the scope of the law. He adds that the District " is slated to receive approximately $1.5 billion in state funding this year alone," as the General Assembly continues to support public K-12 education through record increases in funding."

Under director DawnLynne Kacer, the District has recently beefed up its charter office, which is charged with monitoring more than 80 charters in the city, and has developed what it calls "quality authorizing" practices, many recommended by national charter organizations. In the past, charter school operators and their advocates had complained that the charter office was inconsistent and cited a lack of quality authorizing as a reason for the financial disarray and poor academic performance of some charters that were ultimately closed or shut down on their own.

District spokesman Kevin Geary noted that the District has added 14 new charters and 7,41- new seats since William Hite became Superintendent, and that overall charter enrollment has increased by more than 14,500 seats during that time. Now, 67,411 students are enrolled in charters, about a third of those who attend publicly funded schools in the city.

He said the SRC this year has also approved 1200 new seats going forward through expansions and amendments, and the recommended renewal agreements would add another 800 seats over the next few years.

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