The Philadelphia Board of Education is just days away from renewing several charter schools, many of which have not met the basic standards set by the Board. The Board’s policies and practices ensure that the public has fewer opportunities to testify on how renewing the charters affect their neighborhood schools. The Board will also be voting to expand the enrollment of Keystone Academy Charter by over 40%, again with no public review. At its May action meeting, the Board added a Charter Schools Office presentation to the agenda just hours before the meeting convened and after they closed the window to sign up to testify. The Board holds no renewal hearings as other districts in the state do. Yet the Board will be voting to renew most of the twenty-two schools in this year’s cohort. Anyone who spoke at the May meeting–not knowing that the Board would be voting on the renewals next month– may be barred from speaking in June.
by Lisa Haver
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Not one of the 2021 charter schools in the 2021 cohort has met academic standards. The District’s Charter Schools Office, however, has recommended all for 5-year renewals. This represents a cost to the district of approximately $ $484, 053, 891.
Most of the schools in this cohort failed to meet most of the conditions they agreed to in their previous renewal agreements. That should come as no surprise. As then-CSO Director DawnLynne Kacer told the School Reform Commission in 2017, there are no formal consequences for failing to meet conditions. With this year’s recommendations, we see that there are also no consequences for not meeting conditions included in a legal surrender agreement clause.
None of the seven Renaissance charters in the 2021 cohort meets academic standards. APPS cited District reporting in our 2020 analysis of the Renaissance charters in concluding that none of the operators came close to keeping their promise to turn around the neighborhood public schools: The companies awarded contracts to manage those schools promised to “effect dramatic change” at “chronically underperforming schools”. The District, over the past ten years, has spent hundreds of millions on Renaissance schools while getting very little in return. Although the Initiative stipulated that “Renaissance Schools will be granted greater autonomy in exchange for increased accountability”, there has actually been less accountability, as seen by the repeated renewals of Renaissance charters that fail to meet basic standards, let alone surpass District performance.
Note: All academic data taken from most recent CSO renewal evaluations, District school profiles and District SPRs. All CEO salary/compensation data from 2018 and 2019 IRS Form 990s. Projected costs of operating of charter schools based on 2021 District budget information.
This report was written by Lisa Haver, Karel Kilimnik, Deborah Grill, Diane Payne and Ilene Poses.
Click on the name of the school to read the report:
Universal Charter School at Audenreid
Universal Charter School at Vare Stem and Arts Academy
Mastery Charter Schools at Wister, Clymer, Gratz and Shoemaker
Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School
Global Leadership Academy at Huey
TECH Freire Charter School
Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School
Lindley Academy Charter School at Birney
YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School
by Karel Kilimnik
During this difficult time, when it seems like the earth has opened up under our feet, the Board must be especially mindful of its leadership roles as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget. In times of crisis, there is often pressure to bypass rules in the name of “flexibility”. While some expediency may be called for, more important is maintaining democratic structures and public trust. Last month, the Board approved a last-minute Item that ceded some of its own powers to Superintendent Hite, granting him the authority to spend up to $15 million on contracts needed to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The Item appears on the April 30 agenda for renewal. Kudos to Dr. Hite for instructing Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt to recommend, at the April 23 joint committee meeting, that the Board not renew. APPS stated its strong objection to this action, and we support its elimination.
The ongoing economic collapse portends serious budget problems for the District. Revenues from the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), Rideshare tax, liquor-by-the-drink tax, and others will take a dive. For many, memories of the 2013-14 Doomsday Budget linger. The School Reform Commission approved a budget that temporarily eliminated secretaries, assistant principals, counselors, certified librarians, extra-curricular activities including sports, most support staff, music and art, and new books.
Dr. Hite and the Board have urged the public to contact state representatives and Governor Wolf to ensure that the state education budget remains intact; if not, the federal government would lend some assistance but would not provide the same level of funding. The District has put a freeze on hiring central office staff, and Dr. Hite has also stated that his Administration is “reviewing and prioritizing all Action Items and contracts”. That review should include all unnecessary contracts including those for outsourced professional development from companies such as TFA, Jounce and others. Given the impending budget crisis, no charter school amendments for increased enrollment should be approved. This month’s agenda includes two: Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages and Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School. As we stated in our March 24 letter to the Board, “We have also asked that all non-essential Items be withdrawn for now, and that each Item Description include a sentence explaining why it is essential and must be voted on this month.“
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During the 17-year reign of the SRC, charter renewals have been approved without any public review. Charters failing to meet standards in academic, financial and organizational areas were routinely renewed without any opportunity for the public to review the Charter School Office evaluations and make meaningful comments.
We have written two letters to the Board asking for them to create a new process for charter renewal, one that is open to the public and is not simply a rubber-stamp for charters that have failed to educate their students. We have also raised the issue in our testimony in Board committee meetings.
So far, we have received no answer to either of our letters.
March 19, 2019
Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board:
We write to you concerning the numerous charter renewals that have been postponed indefinitely by the School Reform Commission and the Board over the past three years.
The District has allowed several charters to operate past their 5-year terms. In most if not all cases, this is because the charters have refused to accept the remedies for deficiencies, referred to as “conditions”, that the District has recommended. The Board should discontinue the SRC’s practice of allowing charter operators to use their own refusal to address their schools’ deficiencies as a means of extending their 5-year terms. Several of the schools in question failed to meet academic, organizational, and financial standards. Because of the dearth of public information on these matters, we can only assume that the District has suspended all efforts to have these operators sign new charters. Thus, the idea of a 5-year term for charters becomes meaningless.
In 2016, Universal Audenried and Universal Vare were recommended for non-renewal by the Charter Schools Office. The SRC renewed Vare last year, but Audenried’s non-renewal remains on hold for three years now.
In 2017, twenty-three charter schools were up for renewal (see list below). The SRC voted to renew eight of them at its May 1 Action Meeting. No resolutions were posted for the fifteen who had refused to sign a new charter; thus, no pubic action was taken on them.
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