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Corporate Charters Get the Cash: Philadelphia Charter School Battle Casts Nationwide Shadow

Nationally noted activist/educator Dr. Walter D. Palmer, founder of an innovative charter school in Philadelphia, is in a historic battle with Philadelphia School District officials which could impact charters across Pennsylvania as well as the current debates nationwide over reforming public education.

At issue is the failure of Philadelphia district officials to provide $1.7-million in funds for the high school at Palmer’s charter--money that he says prior school district officials approved but never delivered.

District officials counter that the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Charter School, before launching its high school, never obtained formal approval from the School Reform Commission. As a consequence, they claim the school district owes the school nothing.

The SRC is a state government created and controlled entity that oversees public schools in Philadelphia including the 74 charters operating in that city.

If Palmer looses this battle, now being fought out in Pennsylvania’s appellate Commonwealth Court, it could bankrupt the school he opened in 2000, shuttering the impressive multi-million new building opened a few years ago in an impoverished section of North Philadelphia.

A win for the Palmer School enables charter schools in Philadelphia and statewide to increase enrollments.

Dr. Palmer says numerous former District and SRC leaders repeatedly gave approvals but the District’s Charter School Office didn’t provide the paperwork to the SRC for its formal approval.

Dr. Walter Palmer is challenging a system stacked in favor of corporate charter school companiesDr. Walter Palmer is challenging a system stacked in favor of corporate charter school companies

“We received the approvals and proceeded in good faith but the Charter School Office didn’t put the approvals in front of the SRC,” Palmer says. But he added he thinks something other than a technicality is involved in the funding snag, saying, “I’ve publicly critiqued the Charter School Office. We think this refusal to pay us is retaliation.”

Among the evidence being presented by the Palmer School against the School District in its $1.7-million lawsuit: a 2007 email from a ranking District administrator confirming that the Palmer School had received proper green-lights from district officials.

That email states that an approval resolution for the School “was pulled” from the SRC’s October and November meetings in 2007 – weeks after Palmer had already begun operating high school classes as directed by District/SRC officials.

Palmer, in an 8/9/10 letter to SRC Chairman Robert Archie, stated that the District’s Charter School Office “admits to their failure to submit such a resolution” certifying the Palmer School’s high school expansion.

SRC Chairman Archie did not respond to requests for comment. Dr. Palmer says he received commitments from Archie earlier this year to release the $1.7-million.



story | by Dr. Radut