Supreme Court Ruling on School Reform Commission Could Impact Philly Schools

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that limits the School Reform Commission’s power could ultimately impact Philadelphia schools.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court ruled that the School Reform Commission (SRC) does not have the power to cancel portions of the charter law and state school code.

The ruling stems from a case involving the West Philadelphia Charter School, which was fighting the Philadelphia School District’s enrollment caps. The new ruling could affect how the SRC handles charter schools, school closings and teacher contracts.

The ruling came the same day the SRC approved three of the 12 applications for new charter schools in Philadelphia. SRC members approved Esperanza Elementary Charter School, Russell Byers Academy Charter School, and KIPP North Philadelphia Charter School during a vote Tuesday night.

Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, responded to the court ruling as well as the charter approvals in a written statement:

"The PA Supreme Court today issued a ruling that has huge ramifications for Philadelphia's educators, the PFT and our schoolchildren, particularly in light of the School Reform Commission's irrational decision to approve three more charter schools.

"The SRC routinely cites PA Act 696 as the rationale for the adverse actions they have taken against PFT members and public schools over the past few years, including school closings and the improper layoff and restoration of school counselors. Today's ruling by the Court declares that Act 696 is unconstitutional, and the SRC CANNOT waive school code provisions it finds inconvenient.

"On the other other hand, the ruling also removes enrollment caps from charter schools. This means that the three new charter schools approved by the SRC will place even more of a strain on the District's already overstretched budget. Now more than ever, the PFT is reiterating its call for a moratorium on new charter schools because Philadelphia simply cannot afford any more conversions.

"With tonight's vote, the SRC has taken another step toward bankrupting the school district. The irresponsibility of the SRC's actions provides more evidence that body needs to be abolished in favor of local control of our children's schools.

"The ruling from the PA Supreme Court is indeed a 'double-edged sword' for our schoolchildren. Though it seems to place much-needed checks and balances on an SRC run amok, it also has the potential to put our school district finances in an extremely precarious position.

"Although litigants in this case are West Philadelphia Achievement Charter, the School District and the SRC, the Court's ruling has a significant impact on the PFT. Our attorneys are currently reviewing the ruling to determine how it will impact our members."

Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym was also critical of the SRC’s approval of the three charter applications in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“While several dedicated, community-based educators and charter operators put forth strong applications, the continued growth of the charter sector will ultimately weaken District schools," Gym said in a written statement. " At a time when the state has made no progress passing a budget or addressing school funding inequity, this relentless push toward charter expansion forces an already cash-starved District to make major financial commitments that it simply cannot afford. Furthermore, in light of today's Supreme Court decision invalidating charter enrollment caps, it is clear that the law establishing the SRC is fundamentally flawed and must be repealed in full."

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