To the consternation of the charter community, the School Reform Commission has not considered new charter applications since 2007, citing its precarious financial situation, although it has continued converting low-performing District schools to charters.
In one of the quieter School Reform Commission meetings in recent months, commissioners voted Thursday to revoke the charter of Mount Airy’s New Media Charter School, while renewing five-year charters for three other schools.
In its last regular meeting of the school year, it also took a series of other actions, including a vote to permanently close the former William Penn High School and sold it to Temple University for $15 million.
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to grant a five-year renewal to New Foundations Charter School, but postponed a decision on two others.
It also gave a $93 million, three-year contract to Maramont Corp. for school lunch services, but only after extensive questioning of company representatives and the District's food service staff.
The School District is proposing an overhaul of its charter school authorizing policy to make it more rigorous and consistent and is seeking public comment on the changes.
The deadline for providing such comment is this Friday, March 7. Comments can be recorded here. Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said the proposed policy will be revised to take the feedback into account.
Specifically, the proposed rules are aimed to support high-quality charters and close underperforming ones, while offering more frequent monitoring, more transparency, and the opportunity for expansion to charters that meet new, higher standards and academic benchmarks.
by Jeseamy Muentes
Sharif El-Mekki, principal at Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus, has been selected as one of three Principal Ambassador Fellows in the U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever Principal Ambassador Fellowship program.
The program, modeled after the Education Department’s six-year old Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program, will recognize the important impact that principals have on instructional leadership, staff performance, and the school environment. El-Mekki and the two other fellows were chosen in December from more than 450 applicants from district, charter, and private schools nationwide. One of the other fellows is from a magnet school in Tennessee, and the other is from a Washington, D.C., high school.
New data released by the School District on Tuesday show that charter enrollment in Philadelphia has swelled to 67,315 students, which is more than one-third of all K-12 students in public schools.
More than 1,500 of those students are enrolled in excess of enrollment caps for individual schools. Twenty charters are 10 or more students over their enrollment caps.
Four charters have more than 100 students in excess of their caps, led by Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter, where the District reports an enrollment of 1,302 despite an enrollment cap of 675.
The District has attempted to make those caps enforceable by writing them into its charter agreements. But this has not prevented the state from paying some charters directly for students enrolled in excess of the caps.
[Update:] A District spokesperson said Walter D. Palmer and four other charters have been billing the state for enrollment in excess of the caps. Other charters have not tried to secure payment from the state for more than the authorized numbers of students.
When the School Reform Commission meets Monday for its monthly public strategy session, its goal will be to discuss the pros and cons of an unprecedented proposal: unifying the enrollment process for Philadelphia’s public, charter, and parochial schools.
But behind the scenes, a lengthy process involving a working group that included multiple stakeholders appears to have created little consensus over how this “universal enrollment” system might work, who should be in it, and even whether one should exist at all.
“There’s consensus that there’s a problem,” said David Lapp of the Education Law Center, a working group member. “We should improve on having over 80 different systems for how kids enroll in school.”
However, Lapp said, there has been no consensus on “the big [questions], who would run it and who would participate in it.”
A federal jury Thursday acquitted former charter school operator Dorothy June Brown on six fraud counts, but said they were deadlocked on 54 others. Prosecutors vowed a retrial, and a juror interviewed said the vote was 9-3 in favor of conviction on charges that Brown had defrauded four charter schools that she founded of more than $6.7 million. The jury had deliberated for seven days after hearing more than five weeks of testimony. Read Dave Davies' coverage for NewsWorks and the story from the Inquirer's Martha Woodall.
School District officials say that just over 1,500 students more than the number that they budgeted for are enrolled in charter schools this year, opening up a new $12 million to $15 million hole in its budget.
Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the District was not prepared to say yet what steps it may take to close the gap.
The charter law requires the District to pay charters for each Philadelphia student enrolled. The District itself does not get money for those students from the state or the city on a per capita basis.
"We are closely monitoring the District's monthly revenues and expenditures to determine possible savings in order to meet the new cost estimates for charter schools," Gallard said. The District had already allocated 29 percent of its $2.4 billion operating budget, or $708 million, in payments to charter schools.
by Kim Johnson
As a veteran charter school educator and as the president of the Philadelphia Alliance of Charter School Employees (ACSE), I am appalled at the revelations in Daniel Denvir’s Aug. 29 City Paper article “Charter operator owed its school millions, but no one’s checking its books.”
Apparent fiscal mismanagement and ethical lapses by charter operators undermine well-intentioned charter schools and their hardworking staff. The time has come for all charter teachers and staff to address these issues head-on or run the risk of tarnishing the charter school movement and the dedicated educators who share our commitment to providing high-quality educational opportunities to our children and communities.