Charter Schools

Fostering high-quality educational opportunities, fair and equitable treatment, and improved outcomes for students and families in Philadelphia through rigorous charter school evaluations, effective oversight, and meaningful supports.

About Charter Schools

The Charter Schools Office supports The School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education in its role as an authorizer of brick and mortar charter schools operating in Philadelphia.

Click here to learn more about The School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education.

Vision, Mission & Values

VISION – All students have equitable access to a system of high quality public schools that challenge them academically, support their well-being, and prepare them for success.

MISSION – The Charter Schools Office fosters high quality educational opportunities, fair and equitable treatment, and improved outcomes for students and families in Philadelphia through rigorous charter school evaluations, effective oversight, and meaningful support.

VALUES – Student-Centered • Accountability • Equity • Transparency • Community

Guiding Principles

Accountability
Improving the School District’s capacity to establish and maintain high standards for its charter schools by measuring charter performance against clear standards and implementing consequences when standards are not met.

Autonomy
Preserving charter school independence by focusing on accountability for student outcomes rather than methods, as it relates to curriculum, hiring, and other areas.

Equity
Protecting the right of students and families to equal access and fair treatment in Philadelphia’s charter schools.

What Defines a Charter School?

In many ways, charter schools are like district-operated schools:

  • They are public, tuition-free schools.
  • They offer instruction in all core courses, aligned to state requirements.
  • They must enroll and support all students, including those with special needs and limited English proficiency.
  • They must be accessible to all students within their district
  • They must comply with applicable federal and state statutes
  • They must produce academic results for their students.

Each charter school must also fulfill the terms of its original charter application and its charter agreement.

But charter schools do not have to follow certain District policies, including:

  • Design of their academic programs
  • Length of school day and school year (however they must meet the state requirements)
  • Selection of textbooks, curriculum, and other materials
  • Hiring of teachers and staff
  • Discipline expectations for students
  • Extracurricular programs

Renaissance Initiative

Through this initiative, there are several options to transform neighborhood schools with long-term academic and climate challenges. Renaissance Charter Schools are those that are transformed under the leadership of an experienced charter school operator while operating under the Charter School Law.

The Renaissance Initiative began in 2010 with seven (7) schools. To date, there are 17 Renaissance Charter Schools.

Charter School Directory


Renaissance Charter School Directory

A Renaissance Charter School is a neighborhood school that is operated as a public charter school and can only enroll students from the neighborhood, also known as a catchment zone.

The School District has a School Finder tool where families can look up their neighborhood schools. If your address falls within the catchment zone of a Renaissance Charter School, the School Finder tool will indicate this and provide the address of the school. As of 2023-24, there are 17 Renaissance Charter Schools.

How to Apply & Enroll

Every year, eligible students throughout Philadelphia are able to participate in the application process for all charter schools.

  • Many charter schools participate in using the Apply Philly Charter (APC) standard application. The APC site is available in multiple languages and offers additional translation services.
  • Click here to view a list of Schools that accept APC.
  • Schools that do not participate in the APC standard application create their own application.

Deadlines

While charter schools are allowed to select their own application deadline, most deadlines typically take place in the months of January, February, or March.

If the deadline has passed and you are interested in enrolling in a charter school:

  • If the school is affiliated with Apply Philly Charter they have standards in place for accepting applications.
  • If the school is not affiliated with Apply Philly Charter please contact the school individually for more information.

Eligibility

Every child of school age who is a resident of a Pennsylvania school district is entitled to a public school education.

The following DO NOT affect a student’s eligibility to attend a charter school:

  • Academic grades
  • Athletic ability
  • Test or placement score results
  • History of detentions or suspensions
  • Special education needs
  • English speaking or reading ability

The Lottery Process

If a charter school receives more applications than there are spots available in a certain grade, a lottery is held to determine who is accepted and who is placed on a waiting list.

Lotteries randomly select students for enrollment, with the following POSSIBLE exceptions listed below (varies by school), according to their charter terms and enrollment policy:

  • Students living in Philadelphia receive preference over students residing elsewhere in Pennsylvania
  • Sibling preference may be given for brothers and sisters of current students at the school
  • Founder preference for children of the school’s founders or those actively involved in establishing the charter school may be given preference
  • Geographic preference for students living in certain neighborhoods, zip codes, or catchment areas
  • Feeder preference for students currently attending specific feeder schools

If a child is selected for a spot in the charter school, the school will contact the family after the lottery.

NOTE: Selection in the lottery does not result in automatic enrollment, as additional information must be completed and submitted to secure a student’s seat.

The Waitlist Process

If a child was not selected for enrollment, they will be placed on that school’s waitlist. If and when seats become available, waiting families will be notified by the school.

  • This process continues throughout the school year, not just before school starts in the fall.
  • The school will contact you if additional spots open up.

Charter School Seat Availability

Charter schools have what we refer to as a “cap”. This term simply refers to the maximum number of students a school is able to serve. Once a school reaches this number they will be at full capacity and are unable to enroll more students.

Although the enrollment period may end with most charter schools filling all available seats, some charter schools may still have open seats for the upcoming school year.

  • In addition to contacting schools directly to find out if they have open seats, families can also visit the Great Philly Schools’ (GPS) website here and simply scroll down to the table, located towards the bottom of the page. Open seat availability is organized by grade, per school.
  • If you are not sure which schools are charter schools, please refer to the directory here.

Please note, open seat availability is typically updated every August, closer to the new school year.

Enrollment

All students who are accepted, by application, lottery or waitlist, must submit the documents listed below by the school’s established deadline (upon receiving notice that a seat is available for your child). At that time, your child will be officially enrolled in the charter school.

As a part of the District’s efforts to maintain a safe environment for students, schools may request the following:

  • A copy of the parent/guardian’s picture identification at the time of registration. This copy will be kept on file for the purposes of verifying the identification of persons who are authorized to escort the child to and from school.
  • Health or physical examination records, academic records, attendance records, Individualized Education Program, and other special-education records so the student can be placed in the appropriate grade level/classroom with the appropriate supports.

Additional Requirements

Schools may request any of the following supporting documents as part of their enrollment process. Please note, although they may request it, they cannot require it prior to enrollment, and your child’s enrollment cannot be delayed if you have not provided it. The school may follow up with the parent/guardian for this information after the child has been enrolled in the school.

To enroll a child/student, the guardian is required to provide any one of the following documents:

1] Proof of child’s age (the following list includes examples, but is not exhaustive):

  • Child’s original birth certificate
  • Notarized copy of the child’s birth certificate
  • Child’s valid passport
  • Original baptismal certificate indicating the child’s date of birth
  • Copy of the record of baptism, notarized or duly certified and showing the date of birth
  • Notarized statement from the parents or another relative indicating the date of birth
  • Prior school records indicating the date of birth

2] Immunization record (one of the following is required):

  • Child’s immunization record
  • Written statement from the former school district or from a medical office that the required immunizations have been administered, or that a required series is in progress
  • Verbal assurances from the former school district or a medical office that the required immunizations have been completed, with records to follow
  • Exemption from immunization
    • (a) Medical exemption. Children need not be immunized if a physician or the physician’s designee provides a written statement that immunization may be detrimental to the health of the child. When the physician determines that immunization is no longer detrimental to the health of the child, the child shall be immunized according to this subchapter[GD2].
    • (b) Religious exemption. Children need not be immunized if the parent, guardian, or emancipated child objects in writing to the immunization on religious grounds or on the basis of a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief.

Please note: If a student has just started a series of shots/immunizations, she or he may still be enrolled. The student must be in the process and keeping up with the timeline of the series (for example, the student just got shot one and he/she will get shot two within thirty days of shot one). Please click here for more information regarding the School District of Philadelphia’s vaccine requirements.

3] Proof of residency (one of the following is required)

  • Deed
  • Valid Department of Transportation identification card
  • Mortgage settlement sheet
  • Current credit card bill
  • Current utility bill (gas, electric, cable, telephone)]
  • Recent vehicle registration
  • Recent property tax bill
  • Voter registration card showing current address
  • Valid driver’s license or change of address card with current address
  • Recent bank statement with current address
  • Letter from Social Security Office with current address
  • IRS statement or other wage and tax statements, such as W2, 1040, 1099
  • Letter from Public Assistance Office with current address
  • Recent employer pay stub showing current address
  • Foster care/childcare and Department of Human Services letters are acceptable for registration when a student is in the care of a foster/child care agency
  • Shelter placement or residency letters are acceptable for homeless students
  • Original lease with name(s) of parents/legal guardians and children\
  • Signed property sales agreement, followed by original copy of settlement papers within forty-five calendar days of settlement
  • Schools should be flexible in verifying residency, and should consider what information is reasonable in light of the family’s situation.

4] Parent registration statement

A sworn statement or affirmation describing any suspensions or expulsionsfor offenses involving drugs, alcohol, weapons, infliction of injury or violence, including conviction or delinquent adjudication related to sexual assault on school property, must be provided for a student to be admitted to any school entity.

  • The school cannot deny or delay a child’s school enrollment based on a student’s disciplinary record or sworn statement.
  • If a student is currently expelled for a weapons offense, the school can provide the student with alternative education services during the period of expulsion.
  • If the student has been expelled from a school in which she or he was previously enrolled, for reasons other than a weapons offense, the school will review the student’s prior performance and school record to identify services and supports to be provided upon enrollment in the district.

5] Home language survey

All students enrolling in a school for the first time will be given a home language survey, as required by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. A student’s enrollment cannot be delayed in order to administer the Home Language Survey.

Resource:
Printable PDF list detailing enrollment requirements

Contact

For application questions, visit the APC website or call APC’s Helpline at 1-800-891-3999.

New Charter Applications

The information below reference the 2023-24 cycle. For charter schools seeking to open in the 2024-25 school year, the deadline for submitting all applications and supporting materials to the Charter Schools Office (CSO) is November 15, 2023.

NOTE: The information on this page pertains to the application process to open a new charter school in Philadelphia. If you are seeking more information on how to apply for admission into a charter school for a student, please visit our How to Apply & Enroll page.

Application Materials

The CSO updates New Charter Application materials each academic year. Applicant teams seeking to open a new charter school in Philadelphia are encouraged to review both the Charter School Law and prior year’s application guidance and evaluation reports for submitted New Charter Applications prior to submitting a New Charter Application. Please note: The CSO does not review or provide feedback on draft applications. Once an application is submitted by the due date, it is considered final and will be reviewed as submitted.

Informational Webinars

The CSO hosted three informational webinars on the dates below regarding the New Charter Application process for those interested in opening a new charter school.

If you have any questions regarding the information sessions, please email charterapplications@philasd.org or call 215-400-5786.

  • Wednesday, September 20, 2023 (11:00 AM)
  • Monday, October 2, 2023 (11:00 AM)
  • Thursday, October 12, 2023 (2:00 PM)

The slide presentation is available here.

Timeline/Process

  • The CSO holds informational webinars in September and October.
  • Letters of Intent are due by October 15.
  • Completed applications and supporting materials are due to the CSO by November 15.
  • Within 45 days of the application deadline, the Board of Education holds a public hearing to review all charter applications.
  • Within 75 days of the first public hearing, the Board of Education votes to grant or deny a new charter at a public action meeting.

2023-24 New Charter Applications

Click here to view a table showing Letters of Intent and New Charter Applications submitted for the current cycle.

Charter Renewal Process

What is the Charter Schools Renewal Process?

The Charter Schools Office (CSO), on behalf of the Board of Education (Board), conducts a comprehensive review of each charter school seeking renewal, and then presents a formal evaluation and renewal report (ACE-R) to the Board.

The comprehensive review are based on the Charter School Performance Framework and consider evidence of outcomes-based performance during the current charter term. The Charter School Performance Framework incorporates three domains:

  • Academic Success
  • Organizational Compliance and Viability
  • Financial Health and Sustainability

This same Framework guides the CSO’s ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and assessment work. Philadelphia brick-and-mortar charter schools receive an annual evaluation of its performance against this Framework in the Annual Charter Evaluation.

The Charter School Law primarily allows for renewal of a charter for a period of five years. In limited circumstances, charter schools in Philadelphia may be renewed for one year to allow for evaluation of additional academic performance information.

Business rules for academic calculations align with the District Performance Office’s business rules (viewed here).

Application & Timeline

Charter schools eligible for renewal in the 2022-23 academic year will follow the timeline below:

  • May 2022 – CSO releases Renewal Application
  • July 2022- Renewal Applications due
  • May 2022 – Spring 2023 – CSO analysis of schools against Charter School Performance Framework
  • Spring 2023 – CSO finalizes and publishes reports

Current Charter Schools Pending Nonrenewal/Revocation Include:

Charter schools eligible for renewal in the 2022-23 academic year will follow the timeline below:

  • Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School
    Board of Education Approved Notice of Nonrenewal on June 23, 2022
    Location: 7101 Paschall Avenue
    Grades Served: K-8

Cohorts by Year

Charter Amendment Process

What is the Charter Amendment Process?

During the life cycle of a charter school, the school’s board may need to amend the school charter to reflect changes in operations, the educational program, location, or enrollment since the school’s founding.

Charter amendments may reflect nonmaterial (minor) or material (significant) changes. Ideally, material charter amendments are planned in advance and submitted with the charter school’s renewal application. There are occasions, however, when the school may have reason to request a material amendment during the charter term.


Overview 

The Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus the Board of Education of the School District of Philadelphia is not required to act on amendment requests from charter schools. However, through Policy 401, the Board has tasked the Charter Schools Office with reviewing material amendment requests made by charter schools.

Material amendments to a school’s charter may include the following:

  • Enrollment Increase
  • Change to Grade Levels Served
  • Significant Change to Mission or Educational Plan
  • Name Change to a Renaissance Charter School*
  • Change in Building Location or Addition of New Facility
  • Change in Charter Management Organization

*Charter Schools that are not Renaissance schools that are seeking a name change should contact the CSO for guidance about the process and documents to submit, since the name change would not be a material amendment.

Timeline

Any requests submitted during a school’s charter term must adhere to Policy 401 and its accompanying Administrative Procedures. A charter school may submit a material amendment request during its renewal year (the last year of its charter term) or mid-cycle (prior to the final year of its charter term) if eligibility requirements are met.

Renewal Amendment Requests: Material amendment requests made during a charter school’s renewal year must be submitted with required documentation by October 15 of the renewal year. The CSO may request revised or supplemental documentation during the evaluation process.

Mid-Cycle Amendment Requests: If eligibility requirements are met, a charter school may submit one amendment request per type of material charter amendment (i.e., a charter school can submit one request for enrollment increase, one request for location change, etc.) during each charter term. Requests must be submitted with required documents no later than January 15 of the school year prior to the effective date of the proposed charter amendment. The CSO may request revised or supplemental documentation during the evaluation process.

Depending on the urgency and content of the amendment request, the amendment evaluation process may be subject to a shorter (or longer) timeline. It is beneficial for schools seeking an amendment to indicate what, if any, time constraints exist (for example, if a potential landlord has agreed to take a property off the market for three months).

Process

Submission: Charter schools should use the amendment guidelines, which are updated annually by the Charter Schools Office, to complete an amendment request. Schools should follow these steps:

  • Request amendment guidelines (sample Part II guidelines) from the Charter Schools Office.
  • Contact the Charter Schools Office to set up a phone call or meeting with the School Leader and Board Chair to discuss your proposed charter amendment request.
  • Obtain approval from the Charter School’s Board of Trustees to pursue the amendment request through a documented board vote.
  • Gather input and support from staff and families. Actively engage and seek the support of the potentially affected community members about the proposed charter amendment.
  • Complete the following parts of the charter amendment request: Part I: General Information (all applicants); and Part II: Narrative for the specific type of request
  • Attach supporting documents (e.g., enrollment table, budget, evidence of community engagement and support,  Board resolution, etc.).
    Submit the charter amendment request by the appropriate deadline: October 15 (for schools in the renewal year) or January 15 (mid-cycle).

Processing: When the CSO receives a request to amend the charter for a Philadelphia charter school, the CSO first reviews the request as submitted. After the initial review of a charter amendment request, the CSO may request additional supporting documentation from the charter school to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the charter amendment request. The additional documentation requested will be specific to the nature of the charter amendment request. The CSO will cease the evaluation process if the material amendment request does not meet the eligibility for submission as defined by Policy 401.

Review: Once the CSO has received requested supporting documentation from the charter school, the CSO will evaluate the request and share its evaluation report and recommendation with the Board. During this evaluation period, the CSO may ask clarifying questions of the charter school and, at its discretion, request supplemental documentation.

Decision: Amendment requests are considered and acted upon at the discretion of the Board. The Board can, by resolution at a public action meeting, approve or deny the charter amendment request made by a charter school.

2023-24 Charter Amendment Requests

Click here to view a table showing material amendment request submitted this year.

Annual Charter Evaluations

What is the Authorizing Quality Initiative (AQI)?

To improve the quality, clarity, transparency, and consistency of its authorizing process, the School Reform Commission implemented the Authorizing Quality Initiative (AQI) in 2012.

The initiative, which developed standards for both new and existing charters, is guided by three principles:

  • High accountability for charter schools
  • Upholding of charter autonomy
  • Protection of student rights and the public interest

As part of the AQI, the Charter Schools Office (CSO) created the Charter School Performance Framework, which provides the basis for Annual Charter Evaluations  and Renewal Recommendation Reports (ACE-R).

In 2018, the CSO released an updated Charter School Performance Framework, based on charter sector feedback, research, and national standards for charter authorizing. Since 2018, minor updates have been made related to data availability changes or changes in law and regulation, after being shared with the sector for feedback.

What are Annual Charter Evaluations?

Annual Charter Evaluations (ACE) were developed in 2016 to provide interim school evaluations for years between initial charter approval and first charter renewal as well as between charter renewals thereafter. These reports are produced annually by the CSO for all charter schools (except those up for renewal that receive a Renewal Recommendation Report) and provide information on the three main areas of the Charter School Performance Framework: academic success, organizational compliance and viability, and financial health and sustainability. The ACE also provides student-subgroup information to assess a charter school’s academic performance by grade level, gender, race/ethnicity, and historically underserved categories.

The Charter Schools Office (CSO) may issue Notices of Concern and Deficiency to schools regarding significant instances of non-compliance or poor performance that may affect student well-being or access. Notices of Deficiency clarify actions schools must take in order to resolve the deficiency.

Business rules for academic calculations align with the District Performance Office’s business rules (viewed here).

Schools have multiple opportunities during the ACE engagement cycle to view their ACE or ACE-R report findings, provide the CSO with feedback, receive feedback, and have ratings updated prior to final reports being published. These opportunities are called preview windows. More information about the preview window process can be accessed below.

View ACE reports by School


Charter Annual Independent Financial Audits

Financial audits are produced annually by independent auditors for all charter schools in Pennsylvania. All charter schools are required to have an independent financial audit completed every year.

Charter school fiscal years (FY) span from July 1 to June 30th. For example, FY23 is July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.