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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Could Shake Up Philadelphia Schools

UPDATED

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, which runs the city's public schools, does not have the authority to cap charter school enrollment in the district or cancel seniority provisions of the teachers' contract.

The rulingwhich found that the commission does not have the power to cancel portions of the charter law and state school codecould ultimately affect how the commission manages school closings, teacher contracts, and decisions on charter schools.

School Reform Commission member Bill Green told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he thinks the panel "acted in good faith when it made those decisions based on what the written law was."

The decision could "require reshuffling of all teachers in the district" midyear because the commission has routinely bypassed seniority when making personnel decisions, Green told the newspaper.

Tuesday's decision stems from a case involving the West Philadelphia Charter School, which was fighting the district's charter enrollment caps.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling on our school's case is a victory for all Philadelphia families whose children most need to exercise their right to choose a public school that best meets their academic, social, and personal needs," said Stacy Gill-Phillips, founder and CEO of the West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School. "It is a major victory that the Court has upheld Charter School Law to ensure we do not go backwards, but continue to move forward in giving our most vulnerable families a choice in public school education."

The ruling came the same day that the city schools commission approved three applications for new charter schools in the city. The Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook reports that the decision to add more charters has proved more costly than administrators and commission members anticipated.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan slammed the decision to add new charters, arguing that the planned expansion is too costly for a district already mired in debt. The district has had to borrow money just to keep its doors open.

"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 a SRC (School Reform Commission) run amok, it also has the potential to put our school district finances in an extremely precarious position," Jordan said in a statement.

"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 [teachers' union]. Our attorneys are currently reviewing the ruling to determine how it will impact our members."

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