Board Must Not Deregulate Renaissance Charters

Testimony of Lisa Haver to the BOE, October 22, 2020

I am addressing three related topics tonight [10/22/2020]. The Board will be approving and Item for a five year renewal with unknown conditions for Keystone Charter. The District’s budget allotments indicate that the District will spend at least $44 million over five years for this. There was no presentation at the Committee meeting, and the agreement negotiated with Keystone, in private, will not be publicly posted until after the Board votes. Like other charters in the Northeast, Keystone’s African-American enrollment is half that of the average of District schools. They are the Building Trades of schools.

Keystone is not one of the 21 Renaissance charters, which were created with a specific mission to turn around struggling neighborhood schools. The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools has issued an extensive report on the costs and outcomes of these schools. District data and other public information show that the Renaissance initiative, instituted as part of Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 plan, has been a very expensive failure, one that has devastated neighborhood schools and destabilized neighborhoods.

SPR Achievement scores for the last three years put 19 of the 21 Renaissance charters in the lowest category—Intervene. Enrollment figures show that many have ceased to operate as catchment area schools, with one middle/high school at 27% of students from the catchment area.

Federal tax information shows that five of the six Renaissance charter CEOs are paid over $200K annually. One network of two schools has two CEOs—one making $327K and the other $400k.

How is this allowed? One reason is the PA charter law written to allow for as little oversight as possible. The other reason is the Board’s failure to hold the Renaissance operators accountable.

That is why APPS members and others are urging the Board not to rescind Policy 141. That would eliminate the Board’s ability to invoke its discretion to take back control of Renaissance charters. Those schools belong to the District and to the people of the city. Charter companies promised to improve those schools. They did not. The Board cannot now abdicate its responsibility to oversee these schools. We did not fight for local control only to have the Board cede some of that control back to the Republicans in Harrisburg.

Our State legislature just closed out its session without any passing of charter reform. Powerful legislators received large contributions from pro-charter lobbyists including the Susquehanna Group PAC, Vahan Gureghian, and Michael Karp, who last year successfully lobbied to secede the charters he controls from the District. If the Board eliminates Policy 141, it would close the door to any real reform of Renaissance charters.

APPS members have attended the non-renewal hearings for two Universal schools this week. Those hearings will take eight to ten days, with the taxpayers paying for lawyers on both sides.

The Board should reinstate the Speakers’ Policy that guaranteed that people on both sides of an issue would be heard. We need new leadership of the Policy committee, one not taking a Marie Kondo approach to important public policies.

Another PA Legislative Session ending without charter reform.  Follow the Money: Since August, charter operators Gureghian & Karp have each given $200K to [R] Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s Build PA PAC; Yass kicks in another $2.1 million to Students First PAC

Follow the Money: Since August, charter operators Vahan Gureghian (Chester Community Charter via management contract) and Michael Karp (Belmont Charter Network) have each given $200K to [R] Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s Build PA PAC


  • 08/25/20 $50K
  • 09/25/20 $50K
  • 10/02/20 $50K
  • 10/17/20 $50K

Karp (University City Housing):

  • 09/14/20 $50K
  • 10/17/20 $150K