A delegation of four PCAPS members met yesterday afternoon with Senator Anthony Williams, a sponsor of the so called charter school reform bill, S.B. 1085 while a larger group gathered outside at his South West Philly office.
It did not come as surprise that Williams, who accepted over 3.2 million dollars from charter school and school voucher proponents in his 2010 run for Governor, remains steadfast in his support for this bill which would effectively remove any control over charter expansion from local school districts.
The bill would allow colleges and universities to create charters, an authority now reserved for local districts. Williams said he is sponsoring the bill so as to be able to shape it and favors a compromise, hybrid model in which the District would retain some authority, but he was not clear on what this would mean. He also reiterated his opposition to the District imposing caps on charter enrollment. PCAPS argues that if the District cannot impose caps and otherwide control charter growth, it cannot solve its fiscal crisis and we can expect continued school closings and impoverishment of neighborhood public schools.
Williams, widely regarded as the front runner for Mayor in 2015, has long been a supporter of charters. As a state rep. he joined with Republicans to pass the 1997 charter school law and founded the Renaissance Advantage charter school in Southwest Philadelphia, serving as Board Chair for many years. The school was almost closed in 2003 for failing to maintain the required number of certified teachers, poor record keeping and low test scores. The school failed to file tax returns for five years.
When asked about the school’s poor performance during the gubernatorial race, Williams said. “I don’t hide from the realities…if a school does not work, it should not exist.” But the reality here is that the legislation he is supporting will make closing charters much harder, doubling the length of time for charter renewal from five to ten years.
A final irony in the SB1085 law is it strips out the language that requires charters be “models of innovation” for public schools. This was the whole reason for creating charters in the first place. Now the supporters of this legislation have quietly dropped this language and, more or less openly, are promoting a privatized system supporting by tax dollars that will supplant public schools.