News Room

Impact of court decision on Philly charter schools extends beyond that city’s borders, groups say

Feb. 17 – PennLive – by Jan Muphy

A state Supreme Court ruling that limits the power of the commission that oversees the Philadelphia School District is viewed by others as having far-reaching ramifications on other aspects of public schools in Pennsylvania.

The high court ruled on Tuesday that the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia overstepped its authority by imposing enrollment caps and other conditions on Philadelphia charter schools and then threatening to revoke their charters if they refuse to comply with them.

While the decision most directly impacts that city’s charter schools and the children on waiting lists hoping to enroll in them, Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, also says the tenor of the court’s ruling gives hope to the charter community as a whole.

“It sends a clear message that the rights of charter schools, every child in them, and every child on a waiting list to get into a charter school cannot be trampled. No district is above the law,” Fayfich said.

He said school districts that have refused to pay their charter school bills should take heed that the Supreme Court, despite having more Democratic justices sitting on it than Republicans, will review cases based on facts and not have an anti-charter bias.

“That’s encouraging for us because we filed two other suits against the Department of Education and joined one [the Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed last month] talking about [Gov. Tom] Wolf’s administration doing illegal things to discriminate against children in charter schools,” Fayfich said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education could not immediately comment on the court ruling or its implications when reached Thursday evening.

The Education Law Center-PA, meanwhile, said the decision in this case, which grew out of the financial distress that Philadelphia schools find themselves, highlights the need for an adequate, stable funding for that district as well as others.

“The court’s decision is just the latest in a long line of developments showing that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is fundamentally flawed and fails to provide our children with the resources they need to meet the commonwealth’s own academic standards and benchmarks,” said Deborah Gorden Klehr, the center’s executive director.

The center is part of a school funding lawsuit now before the state Supreme Court that asks the court to order the Legislature to “support a thorough and efficient system of public education and the right to equal protection under the law.”

Meanwhile, the state has in its hands a new funding formula that has won bi-partisan support that has yet to be implemented and is tied up in the ongoing 2015-16 budget debate.