August 23, 2023

Lisa Haver: Philadelphia’s school board must take charter school standards seriously — and act when they’re not met

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Lisa Haver in an op-ed for WHYY points out that even as Philly charters fail to produce results for students and taxpayers, their operators are given a free pass to keep raking in big bucks.

Unlike other local districts, Philly’s school board holds no public hearing to review the performance of charters before deciding whether it’s beneficial to students and the community to fund them for another five years. Rarely does the board vote for non-renewal.

The projected cost of renewing all 19 schools up for a vote, based on the district’s 2022 budget, is more than $470 million over the next five years. Of the 14 charters the board has already indicated it will renew, eight failed to meet academic standards. Instead, their rating falls in the Charter Schools Office’s middle category, “approaches standards,” which allows schools that score above 45% to squeak by.

In places other than charterworld, below 70% is considered a failing grade.

Charter schools were sold as the answer to all that was wrong with education. The market-driven, union-free schools that came on the scene over 20 years ago would not only educate children better than public schools, their wealthy backers proclaimed,  they would actually help to rid the community of the plagues of poverty and violence.  But for all of their lofty promises, charter investors made sure to build in safeguards, in both the charter laws and the district’s renewal policies, to protect operators whose schools failed to live up to them.

Bloated administrative compensation has been a problem throughout the years of charter expansion in Philadelphia. Recent tax records show that at least three of the city charter’s CEOs make more for operating one to three schools than Superintendent Tony Watlington does for overseeing the entire district of 217 schools.

It’s one reason this is the most expensive way to run a district: one public sector with one administration, and 87 charter schools that operate with their own separate — and highly paid — administrations. 

Haver outlines some other charter shenanigans. Read the full op-ed here.

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