I am a law professor who studies the impact of charter expansion on school districts and I am a long time Philadelphia public school parent. The High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School sounds pretty neat, really. But it will hurt existing programs and impose high costs on the District and all of its current students.
First and foremost, why isn’t the School District working with the partnering institutions directly to create these opportunities? Philly already has a school with this mission—the Kensington Health Sciences Academy (Enrollment 458/100% Economically Disadvantaged), and several others with related programs, including A. Philip Randolph (370/100% ED), Carver (907/61% ED), Franklin Learning Center (912 students/89% ED), Northeast Medical, Engineering and Aerospace Magnet (total enrollment 3467/86% ED), Mastbaum (631/ 100% ED), Edison (1077/100% ED), King (519/100% ED), Lincoln (1963/97% ED), Overbrook (473/100% ED), Sayre (410/100% ED), South Philadelphia (607/100% ED), Swenson (626/82% ED), and Robeson. (370/100% ED) . These programs could also help any number of existing Philadelphia high schools which could benefit hugely from this kind of support.
Second, the Founder/part-time Executive Director of the proposed school has said that this is a “both/and” situation rather than competition. He also claims the school will not cherry-pick its students. Those statements do not align with reality. The proposed school will not take any transfer students into its 11th and 12th grades. That is a form of cherry-picking that no traditional public school can do. The whole idea of charters is to foment competition with winners and losers. And his statement ignores the enormous costs the new charter will impose on the District budget.
Third, this new charter will cost the District at least $11,524, 500 in stranded costs if the charter is approved as requested. Stranded costs are the costs that the District cannot recoup when it has to pay charters tuition for each charter student. This is a low-ball estimate—based on Research for Action’s low end for costs at the end of the five years a charter runs and based on the current requests for enrollment. Charters have a habit of asking to expand. These costs will no doubt rise.
This Board and District personnel should support their existing CTE programs by reaching out to the institutions offering to partner with this charter and push them to provide those opportunities and support to all of Philadelphia’s students, not just a select few. I ask you to deny this charter application.
My most recent article, A Legal Mandate That Authorizers Consider Fiscal and Other Impacts of Charter School Expansion, 121 W. Virginia L. Rev. 811 (2019) is available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3325287. I am happy to provide copies on request.
Susan L. DeJarnatt, Professor of Law,Temple University Beasley School of Law (listed for identification only; I do not speak for Temple)