Lisa Haver, a pro-public school activist in Philadelphia wrote to tell me that “It’s a new day in Philadelphia!”

The old School Reform Commission, appointed by the governor and mayor, routinely approved charter school applications, no matter what the charter operator’s performance or record.

Last week, the new school board turned down three charter applications.

She wrote:

Hi Diane,
The new Board, which replaced the state-imposed School Reform Commission last year, voted last night to deny all three of this year’s charter applications.
The decisions, with the exception of a few abstentions due to conflicts, were unanimous.
There was not a single yes vote for any of the three applicants.
Board members gave several reasons why they rejected the applications.
The SRC would approve applications for clearly inadequate applicants, mostly for political reasons.
These schools would have cost the District over $161 million over 5 years, including stranded costs.  Now we can use that money to hire more support staff and fix our older buildings.
Here is the story.

“In a series of historic votes, Philadelphia’s Board of Education denied all three new charter school applications at its meeting Thursday, amid calls for a full moratorium on charters. After protest from charter advocates and a group of students, the votes reversed the dominant reasoning of the former School Reform Commission, which the board seemed to uphold in December when it voted to renew the charter of Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in an attempt to avoid legal fees that could result from a lengthy appeals process.

“This time, board members denied the three applications to expand the operators’ charter school networks, citing struggling academics at the applicants’ other schools and a difficulty serving diverse and vulnerable students. Members also mentioned that applicants have other charter schools that are operating under expired charters, without signing the conditions offered by the board, which would require the schools to meet various standards.

“City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown spoke in favor of String Theory’s proposed new charter school, the Joan Myers Brown Academy, named after the founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company. It was envisioned as a performance arts charter school in West Philadelphia with a focus on dance.

“The vote took place after outraged testimony from Joseph Corosanite, the co-founder of String Theory Schools.

“It’s challenging for me to see an evaluation of us that is deeply flawed and biased,” Corosanite said, referring to the evaluation of String Theory’s application by the District’s Charter Schools Office. “I understand that there still may be some question, but there is not part of our application that can’t be worked through if you choose to approve us.”

Corosanite said the school should be approved because the neighborhood schools in West Philadelphia are “some of the worst in the city from an academic standpoint, as well as from a facilities standpoint.

“People don’t know how we do this because they’ve never done it before.”

“Board members explained their thoughts after the votes were taken.

“I did not come to the board with the perspective that all schools were bad. I certainly did not come with the perspective that charters are better,” said member Leticia Egea Hinton. “I’m sometimes confused by the perspective that charters, no matter how low-performing, are better and that public schools, no matter how great, are still bad.

“Our challenge is: How do we create a system that provides a quality education for all, that reflects high standards and expectations for all children, no matter where they live and who they are?”

Chris McGinley, who was also a member of the former School Reform Commission, thought back to the 1990s, when charters first appeared in Philadelphia.

“During the charter school movement in Philadelphia, it was an era where schools were supposed to become more like businesses … a quick fix, mostly for urban school districts,” he said. “We all know that promise has not been realized.”

“ said he would vote to approve only the highest-quality charter schools, “with consistency towards a Pennsylvania charter school law that is big on promise and low on accountability.”

“He added: “Even if we accept the premise that school districts should operate more like businesses, there were valid reasons not to approve. We have unsigned contracts with three of the applicants. No business would accept new bids or new work with providers who refuse to sign current contracts.”

”City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who helped found a charter school when she was a community organizer but became a critic of the state’s charter law, celebrated the votes as a victory for local control — referring to the nearly 20-year struggle of organizers and advocates to abolish the state-controlled SRC, which Mayor Kenney replaced with an appointed school board last summer.

“For years, a state takeover body sold the idea that our public schools’ most basic needs and rights had to be sacrificed in favor or reckless and massive charter expansion — no matter the quality of the charter or the impact on the school district,” Gym said in a statement after the vote. “The needs of our public schools are dire. We need immediate investments to address staffing and curricular vacancies that are robbing our children of their right to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education.” She was referring to a phrase in Pennsylvania’s constitution.

“We need meaningful investments in our school facilities so that they don’t fall apart or continue to put the health of children and school staff at risk,” Gym’s statement continued.”