I am here tonight to ask you to vote no on all three of the applications for new charter schools. You should vote no based on the lack of merit of each application, the negative evaluations of the Charter School Office, and the very real and extensive costs these new charters will impose on the existing District and charter schools if granted.
New charter schools are supposed to provide innovation and be models for other schools. None of these proposed schools meet those criteria, as explained in the CSO evaluations. In addition, all three applicants currently run existing charter schools that are not doing well and some whose charters have expired. The applications do not acknowledge these deficiencies or explain why these new schools will be different. The board policy for the Tacony application essentially transfers control of the school from the board to American Paradigm—exactly the inverse of what the Charter School Law requires. The application for Frederick Douglass ignores the existing charter school, People for People, to which it is clearly closely connected. The String Theory application proposes an arts school without providing a curriculum for the arts and technology programs that are supposed to be its focus. These are but a few of the serious concerns raised by the CSO evaluations of these proposals. The applicants’ lack of transparency about their own track records is very disturbing and should alone lead you to vote no.
Finally, I have shared with you my legal analysis that you can and must consider the financial impact additional charter expansion will have on the District as a whole. If you decide to authorize these schools, you are committing the District to spend many millions of dollars on them over the terms of their initial charters and quite likely years beyond that. As I explained in my written January 2019 testimony, the stranded costs alone will amount to a minimum of nearly $42 million dollars. That does not include the additional costs of oversight or the effects on special education funding. If you vote yes, what are you planning to cut out of the existing budget to allow for that spending? You have an obligation to the Philadelphia community to tell us what will have to go or what will not be improved as a result of this diversion of funds. Which existing schools will have to defer maintenance? How many more children will continue to suffer from mold and lead paint? How many staff reductions will there be? Charter expansion is very, very expensive. These applications do not justify imposing that cost on the wider community.