Who should new charters serve? Critics and hopefuls make their cases
What charter schools does Philadelphia need? That’s the question the School Reform Commission is tasked with answering by selecting from this year’s round of 40 new charter applicants.
The District urged charters to set up shop in neighborhoods where the neediest, most-expensive-to-educate students live. But many new charter hopefuls, including investment banker Ben Persofsky, decided to take a different tack.
Persofsky is leading the coalition for the Partnership School for Science and Innovation, one of two new charters proposed by MaST. MaST already runs a highly touted charter in Northeast Philadelphia known for its sleek use of technology in the classroom, incorporating 3-D printers and robotics into a STEM and arts-based curriculum.
Persofsky wants MaST to open a K-12 school at Seventh and Market Streets — right in the heart of Center City — and cover much of the same ground as some well-ranked District-run schools: Albert M. Greenfield, George A. McCall and William M. Meredith Elementary Schools.
Persofsky’s theory is that bringing a charter school with a good reputation to where wealthier families live would slow the brain drain to the suburbs — and grow the tax base that helps pay for all publicly funded city schools.
"If we add more high-quality seats and help more people get into them, then you’ve helped people keep them," said Persofsky. "That’s some incremental dollars."
Charter proposals and priorities
Persofsky is not alone. Only 12 of the 40 proposed charter schools plan to locate in or serve one of the ZIP codes singled out by the District as most in need of new, high-quality schools.
Another applicant, String Theory Schools, put in four different applications to open schools in Gray’s Ferry, Port Richmond, Pennsport, and East Falls — neighborhoods next to Center City, where rising housing prices have started pushing out some low-income families.
String Theory Schools co-founder Jason Corsinate said the schools didn’t set out to target gentrifying neighborhoods. "We explored different parts of the city … those four areas coalesced around community support and individuals on the ground that asked us to come there."
These areas also are not the neighborhoods that the District selected as priorities to serve – and the schools therefore may not be as competitive when it comes time to sift through all of the applications.