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Philadelphia Parents at Two Schools May Choose Charters Or Stay With District

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The parents of children at two academically struggling K-8 schools in Philadelphia will vote next month on plans to turn their schools over to non-profit charter operators in the fall.

But do they really have a choice?

The Philadelphia School District identified Muñoz Marín School and Steel School as "Renaissance" schools—a term that essentially means district administrators want the schools to be transformed into charters, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Under the proposal, ASPIRA of Pennsylvania would run Muñoz Marín and the Philadelphia-based Mastery Charter Schools would take over Steel.

The Inquirer reports that charter operators are currently managing 20 district schools, serving roughly 15,000 students. Muñoz Marín and Steel school parents vote about the potential switch to charters on May 1. The district's School Reform Commission must give final approval of the charter arrangement.

But the real dilemma facing the parents of these two schools comes down to money. According to the story, if the parents choose to support the switch to charters, the district will spend an additional $3,000 to $4,000 per student in the 2014-15 school year. If the parents elect to remain within the city's traditional school system, their schools would likely receive no extra funds.

Helen Gym, a founder of Parents United for Public Education, told the Inquirer that parents at Muñoz Marín and Steel are faced with "an impossible situation," since the district does not consider itself a "viable option" to turn around these underperforming schools. (The White House recognized Gym as a César E. Chávez Champion of Change in Washington, D.C., Monday for her education advocacy work.)

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn told the Inquirer that schools that opt to stay with the district could craft a new school transformation plan or stay the course with their current principal. Kihn cautioned, however, that due to the district's limited financial resources, "we have a high bar on the evidence that's required in order for us to make any investments."

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