THE SCHOOL Reform Commission got an earful last night from school-choice supporters as it voted not to renew one charter and gets ready to consider applications for dozens of new ones.
The commission voted 4-1 for non-renewal of Imani Education Circle Charter in Germantown. Sylvia Simms was the lone dissenting vote. Officials cited poor performance on state standardized tests and financial woes at the K-8 school, which serves roughly 450 students.
Imani supporters, which included board members and staff, refuted claims about academic struggles and said families would be hard-pressed to find better options.
"Children leaving Imani will go down, they will not go up to a better school," the Rev. LeRoi Simmons, a board member at the school, told the SRC prior to the vote. "If we were failing, our families would leave like they've left many other schools in the district."
Simmons pointed to an independent hearing officer's recommendation that essentially found the charter academically up to par, but financially deficient. The district hired a lawyer to review that decision, which Simmons questioned.
After the meeting , board members said they would appeal the decision to the state Charter Appeals Board, which could allow the school to stay open for another year pending the outcome.
The commission also heard from several parents of other charters who urged members to authorize more independent schools. Forty applications for new charters were submitted last week, the first time the district has accepted charter applications since 2008.
John Hamilton, whose two young daughters attend Green Woods Charter in Upper Roxborough, said he was prepared to move out of the city but luckily his children were picked in the school's lottery.
"My family was lucky," he said. "We need more families that have the opportunity to choose the right school for their children."
Kia Hinton, an organizer with ACTION United, an advocacy group for low-income families, has one child at a district school and one at a charter. She called on the SRC to require charters to put fraud protection measures in place.
"It is clear our regulatory process is a failure," Hinton said.
The district will hold public hearings, which will include public testimony, on each application within 45 days of its submission. The district staff will then make a recommendation to the SRC, which must vote within 75 days of the first hearing.
The commission also voted to accept a $1.5 million grant from the federal government to partner with the Free Library of Philadelphia to provide literacy-related services to 10 schools over the next three years.