Since 1997, when the law authorizing charter schools was passed in Pennsylvania, their steady growth and the resulting shift of students and money away from regular public schools have turned Philadelphia’s K-12 education system upside down.
In about the time it would take a child born in 1997 to graduate from high school, the District’s configuration has shifted so that charters now enroll nearly a third of the city’s public school students. Eighty-six charters with more than 63,000 students are now operating here.
Naseem Bey, a 10th grader at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School (KCAPA), talked of textbooks with 10 pages missing.
If you need a particular page, “you might have to find someone with that page,” Bey said.
Khyeanna Mallette, a junior at Philadelphia Military Academy, remembered leaving a physical education class with a headache and having to get an ice bag from the school’s secretary because there was no nurse on duty that day.
Ian Petrie is not too worried about his daughter’s school – yet.
“She’s having a great year – the art teacher she loves is back, there’s music instruction,” he said. “The school seems to be weathering the circumstances.”
But ask him how strong West Philadelphia’s Lea Elementary will be a few years from now, when his young son is ready to start, and he’s not quite so confident.
When his counterparts describe handing out iPads to students, Joseph Otto just tunes out the conversation.
Otto is chief operations officer of the William Penn School District in Delaware County, just across Cobbs Creek from Southwest Philadelphia. His district limps along from year to year by paring back services and staff and putting off investments in books, technology, and other classroom needs. The local school board is loath to raise taxes any higher because the district’s residents already shoulder some of the highest tax burdens in the region.
“iPads are not even an option for us,” said Otto.
“We do nothing extra. We’re just trying to survive.”