Philadelphia’s rejected charter schools beginning to resubmit applications

 SRC commissioners Sylvia Simms, Bill Green, and Philadelphia school superintendent William Hite hear speaker testimony during February's charter application vote. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SRC commissioners Sylvia Simms, Bill Green, and Philadelphia school superintendent William Hite hear speaker testimony during February's charter application vote. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia School Reform Commission already rejected 34 out of 39 charter school applications this year.

But any rejected charter can put its application back on the table, according to Pennsylvania charter law.

The school board — in this case the School Reform Commission — may choose to hold hearings on the revised application and “shall consider the revised and resubmitted application at the first board meeting occurring at least forty-five (45) days after the receipt of the revised application by the board.”

One applicant, KIPP West Philadelphia Charter, has already resubmitted.

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“We very much want to work with SDP [School District of Philadelphia] as we believe that we can play an important role in our shared goal of serving the students that need a great school the most,” said CEO of KIPP, Marc Mannella, in an email.

KIPP’s revised application will come to a vote at the May 21st SRC meeting, according to program officer for the charter school office Megan Reamer.

Other applicants, such as Boys’ Latin CEO David Hardy, said resubmitting a revised application was in the cards. He said the SRC did have some points to improve in the concept for a Girls’ Latin charter, “so we’re going to re-apply and let them see what we’ve done to improve our proposal.”

Hardy was one of a few rejected applicants to express skepticism at the evaluation process.

“I think that they went to extreme measures to nitpick the applications,” said Hardy. “Why I really believe that is they have five applications that they approved. Just about every one of those people submitted multiple applications that were exactly the same. One got passed, and the other ones got rejected.” In other words, Hardy said he didn’t think there was a significant difference between charters that were approved and some that were denied.

Benjamin Wright, who put in the application for PHASE 4 Charter School, said of the initial vote, “It seems to us that a decision had already been made. And therefore, we put in a lot of effort for nothing.” Wright said he will reapply for PHASE 4 in the next round of charter applications this November.

District “cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools”

The School Reform Commission is only allowed to consider criteria spelled out in the charter school law when evaluating applicants. This year, many advocates for public schools argued that school funding — which is not a state criteria — should be considered.

David Lapp, a lawyer with the Education Law Center, argued at the February 18th charter vote that Philadelphia’s status as “fiscally distressed” should make money a relevant consideration.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s press team released this statement following the initial charter vote: “The Wolf Administration continues to believe that the district’s financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools.”

According to documents from the school district’s budget office, charter payments make up nearly half of next school year’s $90.6 million expenditure increase.

After the vote, Wolf appointed school reform commissioner Marjorie Neff the SRC’s new chair. Neff was the only member to vote “deny” on all new charter applicants.

“The law is silent” on the matter of a timeframe to resubmit, according to Reamer.

If revised applications get rejected again, charter hopefuls still have another option: the state charter appeal board.

But by resubmitting to the SRC, charter applicants may build a stronger case for their proposals if they end up in front of the charter appeals board. None of the 18 rejected applicants who responded to requests for comment planned to appeal their rejections — yet.

And some, like Julie Stapleton Carroll of proposed Germantown Community Academy, are considering looking outside of the charter model to fit the educational goals they have. Instead of appealing the decision, Carroll said she wants to work with the District to see if a school redesign for Germantown High School might be more appropriate. “We didn’t really want to pick a fight with the District, we wanted to work with the District.”

Or, she might reapply for a charter next year.

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