Philadelphia school board must exit charter authority

The Philadelphia School Board is the only authoritative charter school in the city and its track record is not good.

Just days before the start of this school year, hundreds of parents and students in Philadelphia discovered there would be no school to return to. In a last-minute meeting, the Philadelphia School Board decided by a 7-2 vote to immediately close Daroff Charter School and delay the closing of Bluford Charter School until the end of the year. Blind parents had only one weekend to find a new school, register their children and plan transportation.

Sound familiar?

Early in the summer, another group of Philadelphia families received the bad news that their charter schools had an uncertain future.

The Philadelphia school board — currently under investigation for racial bias in its assessment decisions — voted unanimously on June 23 to close charter schools that primarily serve black and brown children. Despite warnings from several city council members and the Pennsylvania Black Legislative Caucus, council members decided not to renew the charters of Southwest Leadership Academy and the Laboratory Charter School, and that Memphis Street Academy relinquish its charter. .

As the sole authority, the Philadelphia Board of Education has a responsibility to shut down bad charter schools while approving, even expanding, good ones. Unfortunately, there is an inherent conflict of interest that taints the charter review process.

While parents view charter schools as offering educational alternatives, school districts see unwanted competition. After a significant drop in district enrollment, there are only about 35,000 more Philadelphia students in district schools than in charter schools.

The Philadelphia School Board has no incentive to invest in the success of charter schools, let alone provide minimal support.

Daroff and Bluford charter schools have been experiencing performance and organizational issues for years. Yet when the Daroff-Bluford board fired their management company last July, the Philadelphia school board made no objection to the sweeping move. Instead, the council let the situation play out until the sudden closure families are now facing.

In the case of the Southwest Leadership Academy, Laboratory, and Memphis Street charter schools, the actions of the Philadelphia school board are even more questionable. Two of these three charter schools are run by blacks, while the third, Memphis Street, serves a 96% minority student body.

Although charter schools founded and operated by blacks make up only 19% of Pennsylvania’s charter schools, they disproportionately account for more than 87% of closures over the past decade. The school board’s vote to close these three charter schools underscores this disturbing trend.

Public concerns about racial bias in their charter school ratings prompted the Philadelphia Board of Education to launch an independent investigation in December 2021 — but it’s continuing with results expected this fall.

It is the future of black students that is at stake here. While affluent families may move to a neighborhood with a better public school or send their children to a private school, low-income — and often minority — students must depend on the school assigned to them by zip code. In Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods, students too often find themselves trapped in poorly performing district schools.

More than 150 of the lowest performing fifteen percent of public schools in the Commonwealth are in Philadelphia. Charter schools are often the only public alternative for black and brown students desperate to find a better educational environment – ​​as a percentage of student enrollment, charter schools serve more than double the number of minority students per compared to traditional school districts.

Unfortunately, the school district‘s strategy is to criticize and eliminate charter schools, rather than improve its own schools.

The solution: Remove the Philadelphia School Board – and all school district boards – as the sole authority for charter schools.

Twenty-four states have some form of independent licensor for charter schools, whether it is an independent board, a higher education institution, or a nongovernmental agency. These independent authorizers can evaluate charter schools with more objectivity than even the best-meaning school district could provide and prioritize student needs when evaluating charters.

An Independent Approver can also offer support to struggling charter schools or replace failing ones with better performing charter schools.

It’s time to stop playing politics with the future of students.

David P. Hardy, co-founder and retired CEO of Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, is a Fellow Emeritus of the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.

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