Originally Posted By The Notebook on March 16, 2015. Please click here to view the article on the publication’s website.
On May 19, Philadelphians will hit the polls to winnow the field of City Council at-large candidates. Out of 28 declared candidates, only seven will be elected in November (including at least two from a minority party). Each party can run five candidates in the general election. The Notebook reached out to the candidates, asking their opinions on the election’s most gripping issue: education.
Where do candidates stand on the School Reform Commission’s decision to approve five new charter school applications? Whose job is it to find more money for public schools, the city’s or the District’s? Absent an agreement with the teachers’ union, do they think the SRC is right to pursue concessions through the courts? And finally, what ideas do they have for how the District can fix its financial problems?
Over the next couple weeks, we will post statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Republican Matthew Wolfe, a lawyer in West Philadelphia and a former state deputy attorney general. He is chair of the University City Republican Committee and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova Law School.
Responses were edited for length and clarity.
The most important issue facing the city is our failure to provide quality public education for our children. And there is no issue that has been mishandled more by the adults that we elected to represent us.
The state has a funding responsibility. We need a fair and predictable formula for the state to use in funding local districts. This is not just a Philadelphia problem. Many school districts are underfunded and the uncertainly each year in what resources the state will provide hits the poorer districts harder.
The SRC has no legal authority to raise revenue, so it is the city’s responsibility to fight for a funding formula that recognizes that it is harder and more expensive to educate children who live in poverty, who come from broken families, who have special education needs, and children for whom English is not a native language. We should be spending more to educate children in Philadelphia than in Lower Merion, not less. It is also uncertain what authority the SRC has in dealing with the teachers’ union contract, so it is important for both sides that the courts address that issue and resolve it.
Anyone who thinks that the answer to our public education problems is simply more state funding isn’t paying attention. We need to reallocate city funds toward educating our children. Core municipal responsibilities include public education, police and fire departments, keeping our city clean, and maintaining our infrastructure. Everything else must be looked at with the question of whether this is a municipal responsibility in the first place and whether this money would be better spent on education.
The School District must run more efficiently. Half-empty schools are expensive. It’s difficult to close schools, but necessary in the current situation. They closed none this year, even though there are under-capacity schools. They also have to exercise better quality control. Bad teachers cannot be protected.
There are charter schools providing quality education that have long waiting lists. The good charter schools should be expanded. We need to be concerned about how well our children are educated rather than who educates them. Since many of the applications that the SRC rejected for new charter schools came from organizations with a track record of providing a quality education in a charter school setting, it is improbable that the SRC should not have approved more charter schools.
The core cause of our public education problems, however, is our high poverty level. Poverty is the cause of many urban problems, from crime to health to infrastructure. We did not become the poorest big city in America by accident. It was the result of decisions by politicians pandering to special interests paying for it with tax rates and a tax structure that chased jobs out of Philadelphia. Anyone who advocates increasing taxes in this environment for public education or anything else needs to take a history class. Until we take action to bring jobs back to the city, we are just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.