Privatizers have boasted for years that charter schools are superior to public schools because students should not be confined to schools by their zip code (I.e. their neighborhood). But a charter school in Philadelphia used student zip codes to exclude kids from their “lottery.” The lottery was rigged to keep out kids from certain neighborhoods.

Each of the 800-plus Philadelphia families who applied for seats at a nationally recognized charter school thought their children had a fair shot at a spot in this year’s upcoming freshman class. Pennsylvania law guarantees it.

But some had no chance at all.

A top executive at Franklin Towne Charter High School said this year’s lottery was fixed, with students from certain zip codes shut out, and others eliminated because they — or their older siblings — exhibited academic or behavioral problems. Some children were also excluded because Franklin Towne’s chief executive didn’t want to take anyone from a particular charter elementary school, in the event he might have to pay for their transportation.

Patrick Field, Franklin Towne’s chief academic officer and an administrator at the school for 17 years, said the lottery tampering was ordered by Joseph Venditti, the longtime former CEO. Venditti abruptly resigned Feb. 27, citing health reasons, after Field alerted the charter’s board chair about the lottery issues…

The Inquirer reviewed a summary of the January lottery results showing that 205 students of 813 who applied were offered seats. The accepted students came from 22 zip codes; in 17 other city zip codes, none of the students who applied got in.

It is astronomically unlikely — with odds of 1,296 trillion — that no students would be selected from those zip codes if Franklin Towne conducted a random lottery as is required, an Inquirer analysis found.

Field, who is still employed by Franklin Towne, said he chose to alert authorities and come forward to The Inquirer because children are being cheated, and becausetaxpayers are footing the bill. Charters are independently run but publicly funded.

“As an administrator in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I don’t have a choice,” Field said. “As an ethical person, I’m just heartbroken that we’re doing this at a school that I’ve given so much of my life to.”

A high school of 1,300 in Bridesburg, Franklin Towne boasts strong academics, with a 97% graduation rate in 2021. It previously was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

The charter also has fielded allegations over its enrollment practices. Though it’s required to admit students from across the city, Franklin Towne’s enrollment is primarily white — a demographic mismatch in a primarily Black school district — a concern raised in 2018 at a School Reform Commission meeting. It has previously been accused of discriminating against special-education students.

Mercedes Schneider reviewed the story and found that it sounded “fishy.” A mostly-white school in a mostly-black district? And no one knew? The selection process at this charter school has been funny for a long time.