Philly charter schools will weather budget storm

Man hangs KIPP school banner
KIPP schools are the largest network of charters in the country. Credit: Getty

Despite the chaos plaguing the Philadelphia public school system, public charters are going strong. They have another year before district budget cuts hit — time that allows them to save and plan ahead, administrators say. And data shows that parents and teachers are leaning on them more than ever.

A crowd of about 150 parents showed up for the lottery at Russell Byers Charter School this fall, according to Laurada Byers. Byers founded the school in 2001, and it’s grown to more than 480 students from kindergarten through sixth grade. This year, the school received over 1,600 applications for 15 slots. One of the lottery winners was present this year, tears streaming down her face, Byers says. Parents are desperate to get their children into a good school, she adds.

It’s a demand that the Philadelphia School Partnership is trying to help meet, says Kristen Forbriger, PSP’s communication manager. PSP’s grants fund the creation and expansion of high-quality schools, she says, whether they are private, public or public charter.

“There are thousands more students in high-quality schools this year,” Forbriger says. “A big bulk of those [are] in charter schools.”

KIPP Philadelphia Schools, also charters, saw an uptick in applications as well. They received twice as many after the deadline from parents who were willing to brave the wait list, says Marc Mannella, CEO and founder.

Even when the budget cuts hit next year, Mannella says he does not anticipate layoffs: “I think we’re going to be able to ride this storm through smart savings this year or a slower expansion of what we’re already doing.” This is KIPP’s tenth year in Philadelphia, and their first graduating class of high school seniors.

Students are not the only ones applying to charters. KIPP received more than 5,000 applications from teachers last year before the public school layoffs, up from 3,856 the previous year. While he can’t know for sure, it’s possible some may have seen the writing on the wall, Mannella said.

For smaller schools like Russell Byers, next year’s budget cuts could mean layoffs. But its administrators will be able to make decisions that are best for their school, as opposed to mandated cuts from the district, Byers said.

For now, charter school teachers and staff are forging ahead.

“Kids are still coming to school,” Forbriger said. “Educators are focused on providing the best possible education to those students.”


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