Philly’s SRC approves another KIPP charter school

 Charter school advocates rally in front of the Philadelphia school administration building in November. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Charter school advocates rally in front of the Philadelphia school administration building in November. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

It’s kind of like when a teacher allows you to correct your test and resubmit it for a grade.

There was fervent public debate about the possibility of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission approving a slate of new charter schools in February.

In the end, five of 39 applicants got the go-ahead, with some tightened restrictions.

Last week, the SRC greenlit another charter last week to little fanfare.

KIPP’s bid to open a new K-4 charter school in West Philadelphia was flatly denied in February – with Farah Jimenez abstaining and the remainder of the commissioners voting for denial.

Instead of fighting the rejection at the state charter appeals board, KIPP just addressed the red flags and kicked a revised application back to the SRC.

Specifically, KIPP agreed to cap enrollment at 375 (it had originally sought 1,380 new seats), and postpone its opening until the fall of 2016. It also updated its curriculum documents, agreed to stricter terms for principal certification, and consented to revising its board structure.

On Thursday, based on these amendments, KIPP’s pitch was swiftly approved by a 3-1 vote, again, with Jimenez abstaining.

“We are just super excited about the idea that for the first time since 2010 we now have permission to open up a new school,” said Marc Mannella, KIPP’s CEO. “That’s a big deal for us. It’s a big deal for the families we are going to be able to serve.”

KIPP currently serves 1,625 students in four schools in the city.

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the other charter applicants rejected in February have resubmitted or filed an appeal. KIPP’s method in this case could serve as a model for other applicants moving forward.

Many of those applicants would have a steep hill to climb, according to  SRC chair Marge Neff, who voted against all the applicants in February, and was the lone ‘no’ vote in KIPP’s resubmission.

“As far as I’m concerned, the bar has to be very high,” said Neff. “We need to be only approving high, high-quality charters.”

The SRC’s decision to open six new charters will not affect the district’s budget next year. The only “new” seats authorized for next year reflect students who KIPP has already been serving in excess of one of its enrollment caps.

The rest of the new charters will open for the 2016-17 school year.

Traditional public school advocates have decried this expansion because of the way new charter seats drain resources from the district’s existing schools. The district estimates an average stranded cost of $7,000 for every student who migrates to a charter school from one of its schools or the city’s private options.

School choice proponents dispute the district’s figure, and believe that high-quality charter expansion will improve options for the city’s neediest families.

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