By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Today’s School Reform Commission is sure to generate fireworks, as commissioners vote on whether to approve new charter schools. Both sides of the issue are putting on the pressure.

The SRC must consider new charters under provisions that Republican state lawmakers tacked on to a bill allowing the city to collect an extra two dollars a pack on cigarettes, to help close a large budget deficit last year.

The tax was expected to raise $49 million, but the district stands to lose as much as $100 million if the new charter school applications are approved, which is why a number of school groups are demanding that no charters get approved.

Ron Whitehorn of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools says dozens of local officials have signed their petition. “This isn’t a debate about charter schools versus traditional schools,” he says. “This is about the district’s fiscal crisis.”

But western Pennsylvania lawmaker Mike Turzai continues to pressure the SRC to approve more charters, making frequent recent trips to the city to lobby personally.

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