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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Ears on the Board of Education: April 21, 2022
by Diane Payne
Over the years, APPS members and others have testified about the barriers to finding basic information on the District website, for content as well as for technical reasons. There is too often a lack of straightforward and honest presentations. The agenda for this action meeting is another such example. Omitted from the agenda posted online and distributed at the meeting, again, were the legislative update given by Board Member Fix Lopez, the Parent and Community Advisory presentation given by Board Member Thompson, and the Student Representative presentation given by Rebecca Allen. None of these were about issues that had just arisen. The agenda also failed to include dollar amounts for Item 8, Item 9 and Item 28. This may lead observers to think these are no-cost items. In fact, Action Item 8 totalled $15 million and Item 9 totaled $16.9 million. Item 28, a 5-year renewal for Mastery Shoemaker, will cost the District a minimum of $50 million. The Board has a duty to inform the public of how they are spending public funds.
by Deborah Grill, Lisa Haver and Diane Payne
Every new charter school application is a budgetary and community assault on our current public school system as every charter school represents an unfunded state mandate. The charter school experiment concocted over twenty years ago–an experiment on mostly poor, urban, black and brown children–has failed. Clearly inadequate applications should be rejected at the outset. But the PA Charter law mandates that every application be reviewed and evaluated by the district’s staff, then reviewed for approval or denial by the elected or appointed board. Thus clearly inadequate and inexperienced applicants like Entrepreneurial Charter and perennial applicants like Aspira force the School District of Philadelphia to spend inordinate amounts of time and money for a months-long process. Despite the failure of these applicants to present a credible proposal to educate Philadelphia’s children, the Charter Schools Office (CSO) must read and analyze lengthy applications with hundreds of pages of attachments, present a thorough and detailed evaluation, and participate in extensive and costly legal hearings–with the city’s taxpayers footing the bill for hearing officers, attorneys, court reporters, and reams of documents.
The District cannot afford any new charter schools. The District does not need any new charter schools. The Board should reject all three new charter applications.
Please let the Board know at the action meeting on February 24 or March 3, in written testimony or in testimony by March 2, that they must vote to deny all of these applications.
Aspira Bilingual Business, Finance, and Technology Charter High School
Aspira Eugenio Maria de Hostos Preparatory Charter School
Philadelphia Entrepreneurial Development Academy Charter High School
Ears on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021
by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
For the first time in APPS’ 9-year history, not one of our members was permitted to attend or to testify at a District Action Meeting. Lisa Haver signed up to speak on Action Item 44, YouthBuild Charter Renewal; Lynda Rubin to speak on Action Item 2, an $800,000 grant over ten years from the University of Pennsylvania for a kindergarten teacher at Penn Alexander School. Both were notified that they would not be permitted to speak; thus, the Board deliberately blocked public testimony before voting on those action items, another blatant violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. Of course, there is no way to know how many other parents, students, educators and community members were not allowed to speak. When Board President Joyce Wilkerson attempted to justify the Board’s dismantling of its speaker policy last year, she contended that those policies were preventing a variety of voices from being heard. At every meeting, General Counsel Lynn Rauch reads a statement that the Board wants to “prioritize new voices”. But the Board’s actions belie these claims. The Board no longer limits speakers on a given topic, pro or con; it is strictly first-come, first served. At this meeting, 10 adult speakers, ⅓ of those permitted to speak, addressed one topic–school reopenings. Are we to believe that no parent wanted to address the new bell schedule, which generated several news stories, or the amended 2021-22 calendar that moves professional development half-days from Fridays to Wednesdays? The Board allowed testimony on only six of the forty-eight Action Items. That means fewer perspectives heard on fewer issues. The Board crossed the line at this meeting, however, not just allowing corporate lobbyists and executives to take the limited speaker slots, but actually recruiting them.
The Board could no longer sustain the optics of holding remote meetings while sending students and staff into school buildings at full capacity. They held a “hybrid” meeting at which only Board members, District staff and registered speakers would attend in person; there were about 25 people in a room that holds almost 300. The Board has used the COVID crisis to shield itself from District stakeholders who have criticized not just their speaker suppression but their disregard for the needs of students and families. Their solution: keep those voices silent by keeping them off the speaker list and out of the room.