The Charter Schools Office Supports Board in its Role as Charter School Authorizer

Posted on January 30, 2023
Categories: Blog, Insights with the Board

As the governing body for the School District of Philadelphia, the Board of Education’s main role is to oversee all policies and budgetary decisions for the District. But the Board has two other important duties. One is to appoint and evaluate the Superintendent. The other is to serve as the authorizer of all brick-and-mortar charter schools in Philadelphia.

Helping the Board fulfill this mission is the Charter Schools Office (CSO) which helps families make informed decisions about their options for attending charter schools in Philadelphia and holds charter schools accountable to ambitious goals. The CSO promotes high standards and offers meaningful support, while it also preserves charter school autonomy and protects the rights of students and families. The CSO is led by Peng Chao, Acting Chief of the Charter Schools Office, and includes about 16 staff members.

“The Charter Schools Office team is committed to supporting students and families as they navigate the charter sector in Philadelphia and to ensuring that all students have access to schools that challenge them academically, support their well-being, and prepare them for success,” said Mr. Chao.

On behalf of the Board, the CSO conducts a comprehensive annual review of each charter school and, when a charter school seeks renewal, presents a comprehensive evaluation and renewal report to the Board. This review and the CSO’s renewal evaluation reports are based on the Charter School Performance Framework, which evaluates three areas or domains. They are:

Academic Success;
Organizational Compliance and Viability;
Financial Health and Sustainability.

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

The CSO uses the same charter renewal framework in ongoing monitoring, evaluation and assessment work. Each Philadelphia brick-and-mortar charter school not in the renewal cohort receives an annual evaluation of its performance in the form of an Annual Charter Evaluation (ACE) report.

Currently, there are 83 brick-and-mortar charter schools in Philadelphia, serving approximately 65,000 students; while there are 217 district schools enrolling about 115,000 students. Additional students are enrolled in alternative schools and other/cyber charter schools. Total enrollment for the School District is 198,645 students.

The Pennsylvania Charter School Law was enacted in 1997 to allow local school boards to establish new charter schools; and in Philadelphia, the first charter school opened in 2002. Charter schools resemble district schools in many ways, including:

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.

On the other hand, charter schools don’t have to follow certain district policies, such as:

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

Board Policy 400 gives the Board authority over charter school authorizing as well as establishing and maintaining efficient and effective monitoring structures. In addition, Board Policy 401 ensures that all charter school authorizing standards are transparent, merit-based, comprehensive, equitable, and consider the Board’s responsibility to allocate limited resources to all public schools in Philadelphia. To learn more about the Charter Schools Office, visit its webpage.