In what was a slow year for applications, Philadelphia's School Reform Commission approved one new charter and rejected two others Wednesday evening.
The sole approval went to KIPP Parkside, which will become the seventh school under the KIPP Philadelphia umbrella when it opens in 2019. The SRC rejected applications for Friendship Whittier Charter School and Deep Roots Charter School.
The District received just five applications for new charter schools this year; two were withdrawn before final deliberations.
The SRC approved KIPP's application with conditions, one of which was that it delay opening the Parkside school until 2019. The SRC also mandated that KIPP Parkside open as a K-4 school rather than a K-8 school. SRC members said they were concerned about KIPP's past performance in the middle grades and stipulated that the school could expand the grades covered if performance improved.
"It seems to me in some ways this was asking us to make a bet on our educators that we can get our game up in our middle grades," said KIPP Philadelphia CEO Marc Mannella. "And I'm willing to make that bet 10 times out of 10."
KIPP leaders were not aware heading into the evening that the SRC would delay the school's opening, Mannella said, adding that the arrangement wasn't ideal. But, he added, he was "elated" for the families on KIPP's wait list who might now have an option to attend.
The SRC approved KIPP Parkside's modified application by a 4-0 vote. Three commissioners voted to deny the two other applications. Commissioner Bill Green voted to approve all three charter schools.
Typically, the SRC has five members, but it is down to four at the moment because Gov. Wolf's nominee for the commission, Estelle Richman, is awaiting a confirmation vote from the state Senate.
Wednesday's SRC meeting was notable, in part, because it was the first time that Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Commissioner Christopher McGinley deliberated publicly on new charter applications.
Those seeking to get a read on how this new incarnation of the SRC will view charters, however, might have come away disappointed as Wilkerson, McGinley, and Farah Jimenez all voted the same way.
"It's become an increasingly complicated call," said Wilkerson of her first time reviewing new applications. "That's probably what I've learned more than anything else."
Wilkerson said there were "glaring concerns" with the applications for Deep Roots and Friendship Whittier.
She said Deep Roots' application was thin on how it would teach English language learners, an acute concern given that the school wanted to open in the Kensington neighborhood, which is largely Hispanic.
Jimenez worried about the school's financial stability. She noted that changes in state funding can warp charter school budgets and that schools must be on solid footing to survive these swings of fortune.
Wilkerson called the Friendship Whittier application "simply not ready." A review from the SRC's Charter Schools Office noted that parts of the Friendship Whittier application conflicted with Pennsylvania law and that the school had yet to lock down a location.
Green encouraged both rejected schools to return in future years, saying the District needed outside applications to help diversify the city's charter sector. Since reopening its application process in 2014-15, the SRC has only approved new schools submitted by providers who already have a foothold in the city. No outside organizations have been able to break through.