Despite tough talk earlier this year about closing poor-performing charter schools, the School Reform Commission yesterday voted to renew the operating agreements for all 13 charter schools that were up for renewal.
Those schools include the Hope and Philadelphia Electrical & Technology charter schools - both cited by the school district for declining academic performance, and for failing to meet federal requirements for progress each year in reading and math, and for failing to have 75 percent of their professional staffs certified, as state law requires.
James Nevels, chairman of the reform commission, said that the renewals followed a rigorous review process, which he defended.
"We do have standards," he said. "We did have an intensive review, and the commission was comfortable that progress is being made . . . and [the charter schools] are in substantial compliance."
He denied that the commission had been pressured or lobbied to renew the five-year operating agreements by members of the state Legislature. Many Republicans and Democrats are staunch supporters of charters - publicly funded, independently operated schools.
Charter school operators and representatives from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools celebrated the renewals as a victory for school choice.
"The School District of Philadelphia has become a model for school choice and reform nationally in large part because of charter schools," Lawrence Jones, coalition president, said during the commission meeting.
Nevels said the enhanced school-choice options that charters provide factored into his decision to support the renewals. "To eliminate choice is something that I, for one, as a commissioner, have great concern about," he said.
There are more than 50 charter schools in the city and 19 applications have been submitted to open new schools this fall. The commission has not begun to deliberate over those applications, Nevels said.
In addition, four new charters that had won approval last year but did not open due to budgetary or other concerns will be opening in the fall.
The resolutions approved yesterday state that the renewal periods start Sept. 1, 2007, and end Aug. 31, 2012. Most of the 13 resolutions state that they will not become effective until all requested documentation is submitted to the district.
In addition, most of the resolutions warn that failure to meet federal requirements for progress each year in math and reading, maintain the proper percentage of certified staff and complete an annual report may be grounds for revocation under state law.
In addition to the Hope and Philadelphia Electrical & Technology charters, receiving renewals were: Alliance Charter; Family Charter; IMHOPTEP Charter; Laboratory Charter School of Communications and Languages; Multi-Cultural Academy Charter; Preparatory Charter School of Mathematics, Science, Technology and Careers; West Oak Lane Charter; Belmont Charter; First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy; Green Woods Charter;and Wissahickon Charter.
Concerning the district's budget crisis, Nevels said he remained confident that Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street would eventually provide additional funding to balance the district's 2007-08 budget.
After Nevels met with Street and Rendell on Tuesday night, they pledged to help get the district's financial house in order, but did not commit to providing more funding.
"It costs to reform urban systems that have not been responsive to children," Nevels said.
"So, my plea to the General Assembly, the governor and all our friends is that the children are learning. . . . What could command a greater investment and continued investment?"
The district's budget must be approved by the end of May.
Out-going district Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas has proposed balancing the budget with $99 million in spending cuts and new money from the city and state totaling $82.5 million. *