As Election Day nears, the two top Philadelphia mayoral candidates have separated widely in their thoughts on charter school expansion.
Democrat Jim Kenney, a former board member of Independence Charter School in Center City, believes Harrisburg Republicans have pushed charters as a way to starve the traditional system.
“The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a constitutional responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient education, and they do not do it, because I believe in my heart there was an effort to make everybody a charter school,” said Kenney at a forum held this week. “They were taking money away from the public schools in order for the public school to look as if they were failing, so that charter schools could come into vogue.”
Philadelphia District Superintendent William Hite is currently pushing for three city elementary schools to be converted into neighborhood based charter schools, which would force all teachers to reapply for likely nonunion jobs.
Kenney, who’s backed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, has privately pushed Hite to reconsider.
He said he doesn’t agree with any expansion until the state brings back the budget item that used to help districts pay for the added costs of charter schools.
This “charter reimbursement” line was cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011, stripping the district of more than $100 million each year.
“We had it. Corbett took it away. We took Corbett away, and now we want reimbursement back, and then we can have a much more comprehensive conversation about this whole issue,” said Kenney.
Republican Melissa Murray Bailey is hewing closer to the district’s thinking – putting cost concerns aside in favor of the overall success of the district’s 20 neighborhood-based charters.
“When you look at the other renaissance charters, the numbers don’t lie. The kids are reading better than they were before, and they’re able to give the kids opportunities and resources that, unfortunately, the public school system hasn’t,” said Murray Bailey. “I don’t think it’s ‘public’ or ‘charter.’ I think we need to give kids a great opportunity and stop telling parents that they have to wait.”
Not all of the city’s charter conversions have met expectations. Some have fallen well short … and without the academic and school cultural successes of Mastery Charter schools network, the cohort of “renaissance charters” would be painted in much bleaker colors.