Kenney’s attack on Williams belies a nuanced position on charters

 Former Philadelphia councilman and current mayoral candidate Jim Kenney (left) speaks with an attendee at an event held by the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (Shai Ben-Yaacov/WHYY)

Former Philadelphia councilman and current mayoral candidate Jim Kenney (left) speaks with an attendee at an event held by the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (Shai Ben-Yaacov/WHYY)

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jim Kenney called out state Sen. Anthony Williams for cautiously praising a proposed $25 million from the Philadelphia Schools Partnership to the School District of Philadelphia.

“Over the last week, it has become increasingly clear that State Sen. Williams is a single-issue candidate driven by the contributions from anonymous billionaires more concerned with making a profit than a quality school,” reads a Kenney campaign statement regarding the money that would be used to expand charter schools in the city.

“The Senator came out in support of PSP’s $25 million ‘gift,’ which has almost as many strings attached as these pro-voucher billionaires have attached to Anthony Williams himself,” it continued.

This being a political campaign that markedly heated up this week, Williams branded Kenney’s opposition “irresponsible” and “shameful.

Kenney’s position

I caught up with Kenney on Tuesday night at a Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus meet-and-greet event — held at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown — and asked him whether he supports expanding charters at all. (He does.)

“I’m not against expanding charters,” he said. “I’m against expanding charters when the state won’t reimburse us for our costs.”

Kenney is referring to the charter-school reimbursement, which sends money to public schools when a child opts for a charter instead. That reimbursement ended under Gov. Tom Corbett.

“As long as we get the reimbursement, I have no problem with charters at all,” Kenney continued. “I’m anti-paying for it without being reimbursed.”

Indeed, Kenney doesn’t even seem opposed to the donation — just the fact that it comes without the backing of the charter reimbursement.

“That’s a $25 million Trojan Horse that would get it in the gates of the city and then create a $500 million hole that we would have to dig ourselves out of without being reimbursed from the state,” Kenney said.

“So look, if they wanted to put that $25 million into teacher development and principal development and ongoing training, I’m all for it,” he continued. “I would love to have that donation, but if the donation comes with strings that puts us on the hook for a lot more costs down the road, I don’t think it’s a good donation.”

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