SRC shoots back against Turzai, asks to meet with Pa. speaker

SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson (L) has written to Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai to defend the commission's charter school authorizing practices.

Taken to task by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai over charter schools, the School Reform Commission has shot back.

Joyce Wilkerson, chair of the SRC, rebutted the notion that the Philadelphia School District was attempting to improperly squeeze more than a dozen charter schools up for renewal by insisting on too-stringent conditions.

“Our Charter Schools Office ran through a review process for each of these schools in order to ensure that these schools are facilitating the academic growth of their students, that they can be accessed fairly by all Philadelphia students, and that they have strong financial practices in place to steward public dollars and provide stability for our students,” Wilkerson wrote in a letter dated Thursday.

The charter office flagged legitimate compliance concerns, Wilkerson said — schools that do not have state-required criminal background checks for teachers and other staff; schools where legally required programming for English language learners is not happening; schools that don’t adhere to the state’s Sunshine Act and fail to carry out “a fair and accessible” admissions lottery. 

Wilkerson said that the Monday SRC meeting —at which one school, Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages, was not renewed and eight other charters were renewed with conditions -- was the start of a process. A number of schools up for renewal were not considered at the meeting because they objected to the district’s conditions and failed to sign their charters.

“While many schools met promptly with their boards and signed the charter documents that they had been provided, others have reached out to us with specific concerns regarding the documents, and we are working with them individually to come to an agreement on final language,” Wilkerson wrote. “Charters are negotiated documents, and thus we expect to complete a negotiated process with each of our schools in the coming weeks.”

She invited Turzai, a longtime charter proponent from Western Pennsylvania, to meet to “learn about the excellent work that is happening in Philadelphia charter authorizing.”

The Republican suggested that Philadelphia’s school funding might be in jeopardy if the SRC continued on its current path, a notion that angered State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who warned that Turzai ought to fix the state's method of school funding “or stay the hell out of Philadelphia.”