EduShyster has a guest columnist, Susan DeJarnatt, a law professor at Temple University and Philadelphia public school parent. She writes here about how Philadelphia’s public schools and children are likely to be affected by a gift of $25 million to open more charter schools. Philadelphia’s public schools were grievously wounded by drastic budget cuts over the past few years, imposed by the state. Its students are overwhelmingly poor and racially segregated.


DeJarnatt writes:


Philadelphia still isn’t quite choicey enough for the choice choosers at the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). The PSP wants more charters so much that it has offered to pony up $25 million to cover the cost of 11,000 new *high performing seats.* No one—not even PSP—thinks the math works. But the real math problems are in the demographics of the charters whose expansion the PSP is proposing to underwrite. These *high quality* schools aren’t teaching the same kids that attend District schools, which means that granting them more seats will decimate the remaining District schools. This *gift* will keep on giving—till Philadelphia has no more public schools.


This is not a gift that keeps on giving. It is a very high-maintenance gift:


Philly’s deepest pocketed education reform organization calculates the cost of adding 11,000 new *high performing* seats at $21,783,214. But the real bill will be much more—both because the charters plan to add many more seats, and because PSP low-balled the cost, which the District estimates as $7,000 per seat or $77 million and growing year by year. Confused yet? Perhaps an analogy would help. Say I *give* you $50,000 because your house needs some serious repairs. But you only get the money if you use it to buy a new house for $500,000. The ongoing mortgage and costs will be on you, of course—too bad if you can’t keep up with them and end up in foreclosure.



DeJarnatt points out that there are big differences between the “high-quality” charter operators and the District’s student body. 86% of the District’s students are poor; most of the charters serve smaller percentages of poor students. 10% of Philly’s public school students are English language learners; most of the charters serve fewer or no ELL students. Only 14.18% of the District’s students are white; most of the charters enroll many more white students.


The upshot? With few exceptions, the charters enroll different demographics from the public schools. In addition, the charters benefit from large infusions of extra money provided by their sponsors, and even by the PSP that wants to close public schools and open privately managed charters.


Some of these schools also benefit from very significant infusions of extra cash beyond the funding they get from the District—cash that isn’t available to individual District schools. According to their 990 tax returns, KIPP got just shy of $2 million in grants or contributions in 2012, while Mastery pulled in amounts ranging from a low of $1,237,912 for Clymer up to $9,210,232 for Mastery Charter High School. Most of the Mastery schools listed amounts in the $1 to 2 million range. PSP itself gave Mastery $3.5 million in 2013.


Meanwhile we can’t even attempt to do the math on one other important consideration. Who are PSP’s funders and how do they stand to benefit from any decision to further expand charters in Philadelphia? PSP would benefit from remedial civics classes too—to reinforce the principles that public education is a public good and transparency is key to democracy.


Is this a gift horse or a Trojan horse? Will it deplete the public schools of more students and resources? Of course. Will it promote the collapse of public education in the City of Brotherly Love, the city where our nation’s Constitution was written to establish our government? Most likely.


Strangest of all in the PSP description of charters by is the reference to “high performing seats,” as though chairs in charter schools get higher test scores. Students “perform,” seats do not. The reports on charter school performance show that charters seldom outperform public schools when their enrollments are similar, unless they have far greater amounts of money to spend on small classes and other expensive perks.


PS: At a tumultuous public meeting, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved five new charter schools.