Philadelphia School Partnership pledges $25 million to aid charter expansion

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The Philadelphia School Partnership says it will commit $25 million to the Philadelphia school district to help offset the stranded costs of charter expansion over three years. 

The district has been weighing 40 applications for new charter schools, but the added costs of charter expansion have caused some advocacy groups, specifically Public Citizens for Children and Youth, to warn against expansion entirely.

PSP executive director Mark Gleason said he’s not advocating the approval of any specific charters, only those that can improve outcomes for low-income students.

“We are trying to assist the district and neutralize those cost concerns so that it can make decisions on each charter applicant on the merits,” he said in a telephone interview.

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PSP has also offered the district $10 million to help shore up its traditional schools.

Gleason estimates that the three-year phase-in of 11,000 new charter seats – the amount that would exist if the district approved all applicants with schools rated 70 or higher on the state’s school performance profile – would cost the district an additional $22 million.

This figure covers $2,000 in added costs in only the first year of each added seat.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard called that calculation far too low.

He said, on average, the stranded costs for each child who moves from a district school to a charter add up to $7,000 annually – an estimate that takes into account students who move from nonpublic schools to the charters.  Using the district’s math, the yearly stranded costs for 11,000 new seats would be $77 million.

“We are are appreciative of the offer by PSP,” said district spokesman Gallard in a telephone interview. “The SRC will continue its rigorous review process, which will focus on the merits of the applications as outlined in the Pennsylvania charter school law.”

The Philadelphia School District legally has until mid-February to announce its decision on the charter applications. But, “overwhelmed” by the process, it’s asked applicants for a June 1 extension.

PSP will also lobby in Harrisburg to bring back the state budget line-item cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett that helps defray added charter costs, Gleason said, as well as pushing for a predictable, student-weighted funding formula.

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