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 we elect to represent us. Unfortunately, the problem is not simply a school funding issue as problems are interrelated.
The state has a funding responsibility. Understand what City Council can and cannot do. We can and must advocate with the state for resources, but City Council can only advocate, not vote. That being said, 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 than the richer ones.
The School Board 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, for whom English is not a native language and who have special education needs. We should be spending more to educate children in Philadelphia than in Lower Merion, not less. It is shameful that this happens across Pennsylvania.
Re-Prioritize City Spending
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 towards educating our children. Core municipal responsibilities are public education, police, fire, 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.
Make the School District Run Efficiently
The School District must run more efficiently. The School Board also has to exercise better quality control. Bad teachers cannot be protected. Rubber rooms where teachers who are incompetent but cannot be fired sit all day must be eliminated. They must act pro-actively to reform schools that are not providing the children in their charge a quality education.
Charter Schools and Increase Parental Voice in Education
Charter schools are public schools. There are charter schools providing quality education with long waiting lists. Not every charter school is a good school. The good charter schools should be expanded and the bad ones closed or reformed. Traditional public schools should have to meet the same standards. 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. We expect similar hostility toward Charter Schools from the new School Board.
Although it is a state rather than a city program, money from the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program gives scholarships to underprivileged children to attend private schools. Public education and public schools are not synonymous terms. We need to pressure the state to expand this program and develop more for our children.
Understand and Attack the Real Problem
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-aide on the problem. The tax base and thus city revenues cannot increase if taxpayers are fleeing the city due to our woefully inadequate schools.
Taxpayers pay $13,000 per student in our schools. The Archdiocese charges roughly $4,000 per grade school student and $7,000 per high school student in tuition, but on average they do a better job of educating our children. There is something wrong with this picture. This suggests that there is not a lack of funding but a misuse of funding. We believe that true competition through school choice will incentivize the school system to improve.