Will the Disappearance of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission Imperil the Charter School Sector?

On Thursday night, November 16, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to dissolve itself, starting the process to return control of the city’s schools to a municipal school board structure. The change creates uncertainty for the charter school sector, currently serving over a third of Philadelphia children, as a new school board will have the power to incrementally close charter schools as they come up for renewal.

We asked charter school leaders and supporters the same question:

Could the disappearance of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission imperil the city’s charter school sector and the families that depend on it?

Let’s wait and see.
Rosemary Dougherty, CEO/Principal, Christopher Columbus Charter School

The Keystone Alliance is concerned about the shift from the SRC to a nine-member board appointed by the Mayor, especially as it relates to those who will be appointed to serve. It is critically important that the board include members who support public school choice and public charter schools. Since one-third of the city’s students are served by public charter schools, they and their parents deserve to have a few of the appointees give them a voice on the board.

Basically, this is uncharted territory because when the SRC assumed control of the district in 2001, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law was only four years young and still in its infancy. For the last 16 years, the number of public charter schools in Philadelphia has significantly grown because of parental demand, with most public charter schools being accustomed to the intricacies of how the SRC operates. The SRC being replaced by a nine-member board certainly calls into question the forward direction of the district and the unknown impacts to the city’s public charter schools. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Tim Eller, Executive Director, Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools

If the mostly Black and Brown families, who have historically been denied choice, are silent or unorganized, people who have always smugly and selfishly exercised choice while callously denying others, will go through deep measures to use this new space and opportunity to become even more oppressive and hypocritical.

Although I’m hopeful for unity, we shouldn’t be caught off guard if the anti-parental choice crowd strives to exercise their affluence and influence to keep parental choice as the child-rearing strategies for only the affluent and influential.

I believe what the mayor is trying to do is to not only unite the city, and rally around our communities, educators, and superintendent, but to also ensure that ALL children have a quality education-something that has disproportionately been denied certain citizens of Philadelphia. 40% of families in our city exercise their choice for charter school and another significant group of families are able to send their kids to magnet schools. What has been severely neglected in Philly and elsewhere are our neighborhood public schools. With local control, we have a unique opportunity to bring the necessary attention, resources, decisiveness, and accountability to improving our students’ outcomes. Let’s have at it.

Sharif El-Mekki, Principal, Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus

Any change in leadership creates both risk and opportunity. Which of those triumphs in this case will depend on collective will more than on any one person or action. One thing’s for certain: With more than 65,000 students in public charter schools in Philadelphia, the “sector” isn’t going away. Schools, teachers, families and others share a responsibility to heed the Mayor’s call for channeling energy away from unproductive debates about the virtues of charter schools and into strategies to help all types of schools do more for their students.

Mark Gleason, Executive Director, Philadelphia School Partnership

It certainly could imperil the charter sector — but I don’t know who or what will replace the SRC. No one knows.

But whether it’s the SRC or a new school board, it’s still a problem when your competitors are overseeing you. It doesn’t work. You’d never see that in corporate America, where Burger King is overseeing McDonalds. Meanwhile, we’re expected to do better with less money.

Veronica J. Joyner, Founder, Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia

PCPCS is cautiously optimistic regarding the possible end of the SRC and return to local control.  This could potentially give citizens and parents are louder say, which would in turn bold well for the charter school community, after all we are all about educational choice!

Ana Meyers, Executive Director, PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools

Any governance structure that fails to put the needs of all of its students as it’s highest priority has the potential to harm all sectors of education including the school and parent choice movement.  I am hopeful that the new local structure will provide equal funding for all Philadelphia public school students regardless of whether they attend a district or charter school.

For too long the system has picked winners and losers. Communities like ours in Hispanic North Philadelphia have been left behind.  I look forward to the day when all students are provided for equally regardless of their ethnicity, prior achievement level, zip code or economic status.

David Rossi, CEO, Esperanza Academy Charter School

It is unclear what the end of the SRC means for Philadelphia’s children, including the future of charter schools. However, it is clear that placing accountability at the most local level, with parents, is raising academic achievement and creating a brighter future for Philadelphia families.

Elizabeth Stelle, Director of Policy Analysis, Commonwealth Foundation

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