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William Penn Charter School is one of Philadelphia's 85 charter schools. (Photo by Gavin.s | CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools will be soliciting proposals to expand charter schools across the state after receiving a $30 million grant.

The grant, which was was announced this month by the United States Department of Education, will allow the advocacy organization to develop and expand charter schools in Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The coalition stated in its federal grant application that it would “open, replicate or expand” at least 18 brick-and-mortar charter schools by 2025, depending on whether new charter proposals are approved by school districts.

Charter schools are publicly funded and independently-run schools that have been popular among families, but a source of controversy for policymakers have been mixed academic results and the cost for school districts, the Inquirer reported.

“Pennsylvanians would be better served if [the coalition] spent its time and resources on improving the many already existing low-performing charter schools in the commonwealth before spending taxpayer money on expanding the sector,” Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters PA, an advocacy group for traditional public schools, told the Inquirer.

In the coalition’s grant application they emphasized the academic results of charter schools in urban settings, such as Philadelphia, the Inquirer reported. They pointed to a 2019 report from Stanford University which found that urban charter school students performed better on some measures than their peers who attend traditional public schools.

Pennsylvania currently has 158 charter schools, 86 of which are located in Philadelphia.  For the 2020-21 academic school year, charter schools account for roughly one-third of public school students in Philadelphia, serving about 70,000 students.

Lenny McAllister, the new executive director of the coalition, told the Inquirer that his organization would partner with charter schools to “be healers of our current national crisis,” pointing to “local failing schools” that widened achievement gaps, particularly among Black students.

The New Jersey Public Charter Schools Association also received a federal grant for $63 million this year to expand charter schools across the state.