It is 4:20 p.m. and the security line at the school district's Education Center was beginning to grumble with agitation. A mother clutched a poster-board using it as a fan as she stood in line in the heavy humid air. The small crowd took steps forward almost in unison, rushing to the auditorium hoping to get one of the limited seats.
As the group entered, the tension in the room could immediately be felt, sticking to everyone like that heavy humid air outside. The School Reform Commission budget meeting started and the agitation only grew.
Students, teachers, education advocates and community members filled the seats of the auditorium while the presiding board ushered through the meeting’s presentations. The room would erupt in cheers one second, then a wave of groans and sighs would roll through the back of the hall.
Filling up four rows of chairs were members from Memphis Street Academy, a charter school recommended for closure by the School District board. They wore bright orange shirts holding up signs saying “Save Our School” when speakers of their group were up at the podium.
Memphis Street Academy is one of two charter schools at risk of closing its doors due to a non-renewal contract recommendation.
“The community and our scholars will face a great loss if Memphis were to close,” Tracey McKnight, a Memphis parent, urged while speaking at the meeting.
For many years charter schools have been popping up throughout the city of Philadelphia. While the number of schools grow, the misunderstanding and lack of information on what exactly a charter school is, also rises.
A school, in general, is supposed to serve as a place of learning and as a pillar in communities for families. So then, what are charter schools and why have they sprouted up in almost every neighborhood of Philadelphia?
“A charter school is basically a contract," Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at California State University, Sacramento said. "It’s a contract involving education, the government and a private organization.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a charter school by definition is a publicly funded school typically governed by a group under a legislative contract with the state or respective jurisdiction. The independently operated public schools originated in the early 1990s in Minnesota. Since then, they have spread across the nation with 176 schools developing in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Charter School Law was enacted in 1997 allowed local boards of education to launch new schools that can operate freely from many local and state requirements that apply to traditional public schools. Of those 176 state schools, 86 are located in the city of Brotherly Love. According to the School District of Philadelphia, the schools were established to provide students with more educational alternatives.