Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan wasted little time in blasting the School Reform Commission’s decision to expand its 2012–2013 school year charter school offerings in the face of an epic budgetary gap, approaching $300 million for the coming school year.
Writing in his blog, Jordan ridiculed Office of Charter, Partnership and New Schools Deputy Chief Thomas Darden’s recent decision, saying Darden and the SRC are going back to the sort of decision-making that led to the current malaise.
“[Last] Friday, the district’s charter school office chief conceded that the charter expansions approved so far this year could cost $139 million over five years — $100 million more than he originally stated. So, on top of a looming $282 million deficit, the school district is spending another $38 million, and making $100 million math mistakes? Clearly, the charter school expansion agenda has trumped fiscal soundness,” read Jordan’s statement, in part. “The current deficit is a major obstacle to reforming a school system that was already struggling to serve our children. With a new projected deficit of over $300 million, it’s time to abandon this high-cost, low-return reform model our kids have been subjected to. Kudos to School Reform Commissioners Joseph Dworetzky and Lorene Cary for voting against adding another $139 million to the school deficit, and advocating for a research-backed, school-based approach to education reform.
“We can save money and get better results by working with and supporting our own educators and administrators. They, after all, are trained to do what we’re trying to accomplish: devise strategies to give our children the education they need,” Jordan’s statement continued. “The District cannot afford the latest round of charter expansions, but if the SRC insists on spending millions of dollars, our students and teachers could certainly benefit more from additional classroom materials and technology; safer school buildings; afterschool programs and social services.”
The district currently has 80 charter schools on its roster.
School Reform Commission Spokesman Fernando Gallard said that Darden had misunderstood the question, and took umbrage at the assumption the district doesn’t know what it is doing with its funds.
“Well, I think it needs to be put in context. The $38 million was for a specific number of schools, not for all of the schools under consideration,” Gallard said. “What happened was Darden was asked about the costs of seats. When he answered the question, he was looking at those schools and not [the total of charter] schools.
“That $38 million, Darden was talking about the cost of adding four charter schools and not all of the charters under consideration,” Gallard continued. “So from the beginning of this process, when Darden was doing his presentation of what costs might look like before expansions, he put a number of $100 million total.
“So the idea that the district did not know what the possible costs of the expansion would be is not correct.”
Still, Gallard confirmed that the district will spend $139 million for the expansion of its charter school program, and it is that number and the methodology involved which has irked both Jordan and legislators.
Lawmakers statewide have sought to reform charter school oversight and funding. House Bill 2352 is but one of several pieces of legislation that will add layers of checks and balances to the charter school system, as would HB 2364, otherwise known as the Charter and Cyber Charter Reform law.
State Rep. James Roebuck has been a proponent of both pieces of legislation and of charter school reform on the whole, and believes the SRC would do well to rethink its position on funding charter school expansion.
“I’ve had no direct communication on that issue [with the SRC], but it seems to me, given the economic pressures on the district, they would be wise to assess where they are going,” Roebuck said, “and assess where [the district] needs to be before expanding charters or doing anything else.”
Roebuck had intimated that charter school reform will be a main topic once the General Assembly reconvenes in September.
HB 2364, introduced by Rep. Mike Fleck and endorsed by Roebuck, would severely reduce the statewide funding of charter and cyber charter schools.
“At a time when public schools are still coping with last year’s state education funding cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it’s only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules,” Roebuck said when he announced his support of the measure. “These reforms [included in HB 2364] … provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that.”