Four days before the deadline to apply to open new charter schools, hundreds of parents, students, teachers and charter operators gathered outside Philadelphia School District headquarters Tuesday to support proposed new schools.
Carrying balloons and wearing bright T-shirts, the upbeat crowd thanked the School Reform Commission for accepting new charter applications for the first time since 2007.
The district's administration building on North Broad Street was closed for Veterans' Day. But that did not diminish the cheers for several charters proposed to open in 2016, including a Mastery elementary school in North Philadelphia, a tech-themed high school for Freire charter of Center City and a girls' charter modeled after Boys Latin of Philadelphia.
"When we got our charter, the entire SRC asked us to do a girls' school," said David Hardy, founding CEO of Boys Latin, which opened in West Philadelphia in 2007. "We're living up to our word."
Charter advocates were buoyed last month when the SRC announced it would consider new charter proposals.
The state law that recently authorized a $2-per-pack cigarette tax for city schools required the SRC to accept charter applications. The measure also gives rejected applicants the right to appeal to the state Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg.
Officials of the cash-strapped district have said proposals will be considered "in the context of the district's budgetary constraints."
The district has 86 charters that enroll more than 67,000 students.
"We're grateful that SRC finally allowed us to apply for a K-5 school," said David Solivan, director of family and community at Esperanza Academy Charter School in Feltonville.
His sentiments were echoed by Marc Mannella, the founding CEO of KIPP Philadelphia Schools.
"We're thanking the SRC because this is a good thing to open up charter applications again," Mannella said in a brief interview. "It's a win-win for our town."
KIPP Philadelphia, which is part of the national KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network, has four charters in the city.
Toya Algarin, whose son is a junior at KIPP Dubois Collegiate Academy in North Philadelphia, told the crowd: "We are here today because we want to make sure there are more high-quality schools," she said. "We can't wait for great schools."
At the end of the rally, Mannella and another KIPP parent pushed a button to release a volley of balloons into the bright blue sky and to salute KIPP Philadelphia's submission. He said KIPP is applying for three K-12 charters that would each enroll 1,380 students across the city.
Charter advocates have said the district could receive 50 applications by the Nov. 15 deadline.
On Tuesday, district spokesman Fernando Gallard was not sure of the tally so far but said the district would hold public hearings for each application within 45 days.
"We'll be following the law," he said, "and making sure we have a fair and balanced process."