In a move that cheered charter-school advocates, the Philadelphia School District said Wednesday that it would accept applications for new charters this fall for the first time in seven years.
"We are cautiously optimistic about this," said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
But the cash-strapped district said proposals would be considered "in the context of the district's budgetary constraints."
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the charter office was accepting applications to comply with the state's recently enacted cigarette tax law, which authorizes Philadelphia to impose a $2-a-pack tax to provide funds for schools.
Language tucked into the measure by State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.) requires the district to accept new charter applications. The law also gives rejected applicants the right to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg.
The law that led to the state takeover of the district in 2001 and created the School Reform Commission had exempted the SRC from those provisions of the charter law. The cigarette-tax legislation Gov. Corbett signed last week requires the commission to comply.
"The School District is moving forward with developing an application process for organizations and individuals interested in applying for a charter," Gallard said.
Those interested in opening a charter in 2015-16 are asked to send a letter of intent by Oct. 15. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. Nov. 15.
Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of several factors, including the academic program, finances, and community support.
Gallard pointed out that while the SRC had not accepted any new regular charter applications since 2007-08, it has allowed existing charters to expand.
The SRC also has selected operators to convert 20 low-performing district schools into charters through the district's Renaissance charter program, which began in 2010.
"It's really encouraging that the School District is doing this," Fayfich said. "There are between 30,000 and 35,000 children in Philadelphia on charter waiting lists."
He said the coalition also applauded the district's charter office for working with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers in Chicago, which has recommended criteria and practices to ensure high-quality charter schools.
The district has 86 charter schools, and they enroll more than 67,000 students.