February 18 — 3:09 pm, 2020

Professors call on local universities to support District schools rather than proposed charter

"We ask the universities listed as partners on the High School for Health Sciences Leadership charter application to rethink what they are doing."

Susan L. DeJarnatt, Barbara Ferman, Edwin Mayorga, Akira Drake Rodriguez, Encarna Rodriguez, Elaine L. Simon

Students at Kensington Health Sciences Academy can participate in cooking clubs designed to teach about healthy, easy-to-make meals. (Photo: Greg Windle)

We are professors who teach at local universities and who write and care deeply about public education. We speak for ourselves and not as representatives of our institutions. We ask the universities listed as partners on the High School for Health Sciences Leadership charter application to rethink what they are doing.

Those proposed partners are Temple University, Drexel University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Community College of Philadelphia, and the Jefferson University/Einstein Health Network.

We’ve challenged those institutions about why they are not offering this support to existing Philadelphia public schools, but have not received any response. These existing high schools, which all serve low-income students from marginalized communities, include: A. Philip Randolph Technical High School; Carver High School of Engineering & Science; Franklin Learning Center; Northeast Medical, Engineering & Aerospace Magnet; Mastbaum; Edison; King; Lincoln; Overbrook; Sayre; South Philadelphia; Swenson; and Robeson. Varying in size, these schools, according to School District data, are collectively serving 12,332 students.

Moreover, there is an existing school, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, with the exact same mission as the proposed charter school.

These existing programs could benefit significantly from the support of the institutions. The proposed charter would serve a much smaller and more restricted population because it would be closed to new students after 10th grade. Traditional public schools can and must take students from within their catchments at any time and cannot impose such barriers. The students who are most in need also need flexibility that responds to the instability in their lives, which may force a move on their families, even in the later years of high school.

Additionally, Philadelphia already has 87 charter schools. Adding yet another one adds significant financial strain to an already-underfunded system. This new charter will cost the Philadelphia School District at least $11,524, 500 in stranded costs if the charter is approved as requested. These are the costs that the District cannot recoup when it has to pay charter schools tuition for each student at the charter. This is a low estimate based on Research for Action’s low end for costs at the end of the five years that a charter runs and based on the current requests for enrollment. Charters have a habit of asking to expand. These costs will no doubt rise.

It is great that Philadelphia’s nonprofit universities and medical systems want to support public education with new educational programs in the health field. They can do that right now by partnering with the District instead of going outside to private entities.

That result would be a win-win for the students of Philadelphia. At a minimum, we urge them to work with the District administration and the principals of the existing schools to support those existing programs.

Susan L. DeJarnatt, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Barbara Ferman, Professor of Political Science, Director, University Community Collaborative, Temple University

Edwin Mayorga, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, Swarthmore College

Akira Drake Rodriguez, Joint Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania, School of Design and School of Social Policy and Practice

Encarna Rodriguez, Chair and Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, St. Joseph’s University

Elaine L. Simon, Ph.D., Co-Director, Urban Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania

Update: St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children was listed in this charter school’s application as a partner supporting the proposal and originally was referenced in this commentary. However, the hospital was recently acquired by Tower Health in partnership with Drexel University, and a spokesperson for Tower says that they are “not aware of any support by the hospital for the proposed charter.” He requested the hospital be removed from the list of supporters.

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