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Five mayoral prospects weigh in on renewing the EMO contracts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

What advice would Philadelphia’s next mayor have for the School Reform Commission on what to do about the contracts with education management organizations expiring in 2007? We invited responses and heard from five of the city’s current and prospective mayoral candidates on the following question:

Should the EMO contracts be renewed in 2007? Why or why not?

As one of the chief architects of the legislation that led to the creation of the School Reform Commission, the hiring of CEO Paul Vallas, and the establishment of the diversity of choices currently offered by the District, I am pleased with the growth in test scores over the past five years. This growth is due, in part, to the broad range of options afforded to parents in the District, including schools run by education management organizations (EMOs).

As the contracts for EMOs expire, the providers that are meeting accountability standards should be renewed, and the providers that are not should be terminated. I support whatever model leads to the most children achieving; be it public, independent, charter, or partnership school, the only results that matter are whether or not children are learning, parents are seeing progress, and our highest expectations are being met.

State Representative Dwight Evans

Any decision on renewing these EMO contracts should be based on results. We have four years under this system, and so far the results for these for-profit operators have been disappointing.

The District’s restructured schools and its regular schools have outpaced the EMO schools, even though the EMOs have received far more dollars per student.

I continue to have serious reservations about for-profit companies such as Edison. The EMOs are no magic bullet for our schools and our children.

Congressman Chaka Fattah

Only 55.5 percent of ninth graders in the Philadelphia School District will graduate. Of those who do not graduate, 78 percent cannot expect to be gainfully employed. Too many classrooms lack the necessary textbooks, schools buildings are aging and need to be replaced, and the funding for critically important positions – such as librarians and teacher’s aides – are continually in jeopardy. Philadelphia can, and must, do better for our children.

I would never dismantle the Philadelphia School District, but I do applaud the public-private partnerships that have produced schools like the Microsoft School of the Future and the Constitution Center High School. I believe that our schools must be safe and accessible places of learning where students are presented with diverse options and promising opportunities. If elected Mayor, I will turn that vision into a reality.

Tom Knox

As the School District considers whether to renew contracts of the education management organizations (EMOs), I suggest it should use these management principles to determine whether to do so:

  1. Is the EMO truly providing a service the District could not provide itself? We should contract out only when the provider offers a particular expertise that the District doesn’t have and doesn’t need to develop.
  2. Have the EMOs succeeded in spurring competition and efficiency? If so, how much money have we saved and what are we doing with the savings?
  3. Can we ensure accountability by the EMOs? I believe there has been insufficient oversight of services and operations that have been contracted out. This opens the potential for political influence and “pay to play” influence by organizations and individuals who get contracts.
  4. Have the EMOs provided enhanced choice for students/parents? A recent evaluation by Research for Action suggests that the answer may be – “not enough.”

Michael A. Nutter

Continuing and building upon the improvement in recent years of Philadelphia’s schools has to be the priority of the next Mayor. Underperforming schools make it virtually impossible for our city to attract and retain the families and businesses that make our city strong. I believe that our next mayor needs to continue to work with the state-controlled School Reform Commission to find creative and inclusive ways to make our schools the best in the nation.

We should not rule out contracts with outside for-profit and nonprofit entities if they are going to help ensure that every child receives the education they need and deserve. Before renewal of the current contracts, we need to review their effectiveness against objective standards and whether they are providing the best solution for the problems too many schools continue to face. Going forward, we should aggressively monitor which programs and policies are working, setting definitive goals and processes, and quickly intercede when they are not.

Jonathan Saidel