Testimony of Deborah Grill to the BOE, January 17, 2019

I am here to urge you to deny the three new charter applications that have been submitted. The District cannot afford to approve any more charters.

Last year Research for Action released a report that studied the effect of charter school growth in Philadelphia and five other school districts. They found that over a 5 year period charter growth could cost the district at best, over $22 million, at worse over $154 million. In the worst case scenario, the district would have to close 47 schools and lay off 1,200 teachers and 500 administrators. In the best case scenario the district would have to close 22 schools.

And for what? For an expansion of schools; most of which do worse or no better than district schools? Almost all of those few that do better enroll students of a demographic that does not reflect the district’s demographics.

Your own CFO has stated that charter costs are the biggest item in the district’s budget. The SRC approved many charters on the assumption that they could not deny a charter based on the added costs to the district.

According to David Lapp, formerly of the Education Law Center, they were mistaken. In his testimony to the SRC he testified that the district can legally take into account the impact that the added costs of any new charters would have on district school students when considering new applications. He pointed out there is no dispute that the district currently is not in a financial position to afford more charter schools without damaging the “existing system,” and that the statutory text of the charter school law specifically contemplates the impact on the “public school system.” He pointed out that there has never been a Charter Appeals Board or court holding that a fiscally distressed school district is prevented from considering the educational impact on all students, including students in district schools, when deciding whether to approve a new charter school application and that no cases have addressed these issues since the charter reimbursement was eliminated.

He further advised that no only is there no risk to doing this, but that you may be hurting the district by not raising these issues. I have attached a copy of his full testimony.

It is very clear that this district is financially distressed. Students in district schools have had to sit in crumbling and unhealthy buildings and do without basic resources, without adequate staffing and supports while each year charter expenses consume more and more of the district budget. If the Board continues to approve new charters at the expense of your district schools, you send the students for whom you are directly responsible the message that their needs are secondary to those of the charter investors. There is no real evidence that charters are any better than public schools. They are not a sure thing. You should not, like the SRC, continue to gamble the district’s limited funds on charter expansion under the guise of doing what is best for the children.