To: Mayor Kenney,
CC: School District of Philadelphia, Otis Hackney, Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Jamie Gauthier, Curtis Jones, Darrell Clarke, Maria Q. Sanchez, Cindy Bass, Cherelle Parker, Brian O’Neill, Kendra Brooks, Allan Dom, Derek Green, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Helen Gym, David Oh, and Isaiah Thomas
On behalf of Pennsylvania’s 170 public charter schools that serve close to 165,000 students, which includes Philadelphia’s 85 public charter schools that serve 70,000 students, I am reaching out to you today with serious concerns about the recent actions of the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) Board of Education as they relate to public charter school renewals.
As you know, Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law requires local school districts to act as authorizers for brick-and-mortar charter schools operating within their geographic boundaries. At present, SDP authorizes 85 of Pennsylvania’s 170 public charter schools. Part of SDP’s authorizing duties is to evaluate and make renewal decisions for each charter school every five years.
Unfortunately, SDP’s renewal process has become inconsistent, inequitable, and punitive, which has led to an uncertain fate for three public charter schools – slated for non-renewal by the Board of Education (Board) on May 26, 2022 – serving nearly 2,000 vulnerable public school students.
Furthermore, we are presently waiting to learn renewal recommendations for six additional public charter schools in the current renewal cohort and are deeply concerned that even more disenfranchised children will have their school-based sanctuaries arbitrarily non-renewed.
I am asking you to consider the following:
- During a Policy Committee Meeting on April 12, 2021, the Board endorsed a modified charter renewal plan proposed by SDP’s Charter School Office (CSO) for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 renewal cohorts because the pandemic had “significantly impacted school operations and the availability of data.” Last year we saw recommendations from the CSO which were reflective of that understanding and no non-renewal decisions were made. However, for the 2021-22 cohort we just witnessed a complete disregard by the Board which overrode the CSO’s authority to make recommendations and resorted to non-renewals/closures as their only directive for schools not meeting standards.
- As you know, on December 1, 2021, the Board authorized Ballard Spahr LLP to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of racial bias in the charter school authorizing practices. It is anticipated that the results of the investigation will be released in the fall of 2022. It was our understanding, per a conversation between City Council Member Isaiah Thomas and Board President Joyce Wilkerson, that non-renewals would not be utilized until that investigation was completed and recommended changes enacted.
Mayor Kenney, as the sole individual responsible for appointing members to SDP’s Board, I am calling on you to ensure that these concerns are addressed. Please impress upon the Board that it is their responsibility to address the needs of EVERY public school student in the City of Philadelphia and approach the charter renewal process with consistency and equity.
Please demand a Board reconsideration of all the 2021-2022 non-renewal recommendations to reflect application of the modified pandemic policy and open investigation moratorium.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this urgent matter. Please contact me any time.