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Mayoral candidates tackle the city’s dropout problem

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

All announced mayoral candidates identified by the Notebook (as of Feb. 19) were sent a survey on dropout issues and were invited to submit a 400-word response to the Notebook. Six candidates responded by the deadline. Below the following introductory statement sent to the candidates are the questions posed to all candidates and their answers.

Philadelphia is fortunate to have an active and broad-based leadership coalition, the Philadelphia Youth Transitions Collaborative. The Collaborative has conducted comprehensive research on struggling students and out-of-school youth, and has united around a set of strategies, called Project U-Turn, for tackling the dropout problem. Project U-Turn proposals include early intervention strategies, supports for students in high-risk groups, strategies to find and reconnect students who have left school, and citywide efforts to build youth and community involvement and political support for solutions.

The Notebook, a participant in the Collaborative, is posing questions to gauge the viewpoints of the mayoral candidates on issues relating to struggling students and out-of-school youth and the Project U-Turn effort.

The Questions

  1. How does your record in public service demonstrate a commitment to struggling students and out-of-school youth and to Project U-Turn’s citywide action agenda?
  2. As mayor, how will you promote a true citywide campaign to ensure access to high-quality learning opportunities for struggling students and out-of-school youth, and use your influence with elected and appointed officials at the state and national levels on these issues?
  3. How will you ensure that the City supports educational progress for our most vulnerable young people – i.e., those who are involved with the foster care, juvenile justice, and abuse and neglect systems, and those who are pregnant and/or parenting?
  4. Please respond (yes/no) to five key points of Project U-Turn’s program (comments welcome):
  5. Many Philadelphians are unaware that barely half of ninth graders who enter high schools in the School District graduate in four years. Would you support increasing public awareness about the dropout crisis through public hearings and publicly tracking progress on the graduation rate?
  6. Increasing support to the District, the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Health Department is needed to develop and implement a cross-system strategy to support students involved in these different systems. Would you fund the creation of an educational office within the Division of Social Services to assist youth in navigating educational opportunities that will result in their obtaining a high school diploma or GED?
  7. Just over 90 percent of students in the Class of 2000 who had a placement in the juvenile justice system dropped out of high school, as did three-fourths of those in foster care placements. Would you fund social supports in each neighborhood high school to focus on children at risk, specifically those who are part of the child welfare or juvenile justice systems?
  8. Pregnant and parenting teens face challenges like obtaining child care that can interfere with their education. In the Class of 2000, 68 percent of female students who had a baby within four years of beginning high school dropped out. Would you fund the provision of case management services to help pregnant and parenting teens stay in or return to school – through services at District Health Centers and through expanded Health Department contracts with community-based programs?
  9. High quality workplace experiences have the potential to improve academic achievement, and increase opportunities for career planning and job readiness. Would you provide funding for an expansion of workplace experiences for youth (e.g., internships, job placement, summer jobs, skills training, etc.)?

Dwight Evans – Democrat

  1. In more than 27 years of public service, one of the accomplishments I am most proud of is the reform of our public school system we fought so hard for five years ago. I led the charge to create the innovative city-state partnership that is now running the District under the leadership of the School Reform Commission, Chairman Jim Nevels, and CEO Paul Vallas. This reform is now bearing fruit with five years of higher test scores, a reduction in violence in our schools, and dozens of new quality education options for parents throughout the City. I will work side by side with the leaders of the District to ensure that Philadelphia is a national model for excellence in education.
  2. I have always supported the concept of a system that expansively seeks the city’s educational needs; therefore, I will create a “Joint Education Committee,” which will consist of various leaders in education with a variety of perspectives from across the city. I plan to track at-risk students and keep students’ parents aware of their children’s education. I will work with the School District to create an early warning system that will track students and provide immediate remedial support for those at risk. Also, I plan to implement a Personal Education Plan as a requirement for all incoming ninth graders, which would consist of his or her educational and career goals.
  3. Teen pregnancy is one of the major causes that result in lower graduation rates, according to Project U-Turn. I plan to place greater emphasis on pregnancy prevention in schools in addition to expanding the ELECT/Cradle to Classroom Program.
  4. Student truancy is also a leading factor in dropout rates. With the help of parents, community-based, and faith-based organizations, I plan to reduce this by contacting parents via a phone call and/or a text message to verify that each child’s absence is valid.
  5. Students who are absent excessively, failing academically, parenting, or juvenile offenders are the most at risk for dropping out. I plan to expand intervention programs in addition to creating second chances for students by supporting programs including alternative placement opportunities and transition programs. Since almost half of dropouts can be identified in eight and ninth grades, these levels must be greatly emphasized. In addition, I am committed to reducing class sizes to no more than 22 students because high-quality education cannot occur in overcrowded classrooms. To do this, heightened teacher recruitment is needed.
  6. Yes
  7. No
  8. Yes
  9. Yes
  10. Yes

Chaka Fattah – Democrat

  1. As the chief author of GEAR UP, the co-creator of CORE Philly and one of the strongest voices in the country for fiscal equity, I have been committed to ensuring that every child has the resources and support to be successful. I have supported funding for a variety of local and national programs that invest in all of our children including career and technical education, YouthBuild, science and math programming, AmeriCorps and early college.
  2. We must ensure that we have high expectations for every child. For too long, we have been trapped in the notion that only some kids are destined for college. We need to focus on academic achievement and attendance from the primary grades and into middle and high school with the intention that these children will be an integral part of our knowledge-based economy. We need to ensure that we have quality teachers, that we support and retain them, that we provide worthwhile academic help for struggling students, that case managers address absenteeism before it becomes truancy, and that we provide a path to college and careers for every student. I will implement a new architecture for providing services to children and families that will increase collaboration and accountability.
  3. We need to ensure that every school in Philadelphia is a high performing school. Alternative educational settings play an important role in the safety and academic success of all students. I will bring greater attention to the role of academics for court-involved youth and consider academic progress integral to their reintegration into the community. The child welfare system is in great need of resources and oversight to ensure that our most vulnerable children have the support they need. We need creative solutions, such as distance learning opportunities, for students who are pregnant or parenting. We must find quality childcare for them while they are attending class.
  4. Yes
  5. No. With a strong Secretary of Education, charged with bringing together city agencies, social service organizations and the School District, an extra office is not necessary.
  6. Yes
  7. Yes
  8. Yes

Tom Knox – Democrat

  1. As Deputy Mayor for Management and Productivity, my focus was helping to close Philadelphia’s budget deficit. At that time, I did not have the opportunity to work on School District reforms. I am the sponsor of a scholarship fund that helps underprivileged students attend St. Martin of Tours. My wife Linda is on the Scholarship Committee of the Union League.
  2. I plan to make an unprecedented investment in the Community College of Philadelphia, using city dollars and lobbying Harrisburg and Washington for additional funds. Through the Gateway Program, Community College has been able to reach out to out-of-school youth who have been otherwise lost by the system. Through dual enrollments, Community College will also be able to dramatically expand career-training options for current students. If students can see a light at the end of the tunnel – if they can see some economic viability at the end of four years, then they will stay in school.
  3. A top-to-bottom review of our support services for young people needs to be conducted. Next, my administration will implement reforms, many of which have already been outlined by Project U-Turn, that will strengthen weak points in the system and expand successful programs. As a businessman, I know how to implement reforms, build consensus, and hold stakeholders accountable. I plan to do all of those things as mayor.
  4. Yes. We’re facing an educational crisis and the public needs to be aware of it.
  5. Yes. We need a top-to-bottom review and better coordination of services.
  6. Yes. Schools can and should be the focal point of communities. Placing services within schools will enhance that focus.
  7. Yes. In particular, I plan to ensure that every low-income mother receives pre- and post-natal visits from a healthcare practitioner.
  8. Yes. I believe we need to create an Internship Bank that guarantees every student a high-quality work experience between his or her junior and senior years.

Michael Nutter – Democrat

  1. I have been a strong supporter of the public school system, both as a member of City Council for 15 years, and as the only candidate with a child who attends a public school in Philadelphia. As a City Councilman, I supported Mayor Rendell’s “liquor by the drink” tax, which provided a new source of revenues for the public schools. I strongly supported the District’s financing plan, which resulted in an additional $300 million in funding for the School District at a critical time. I also sponsored the legislation that requires major projects supported by city funds to develop an employment plan for teenage youth.
  2. As mayor I will work with the Philadelphia Youth Network to implement many of the excellent recommendations from the Turning it Around report. I will also work to obtain more resources to enable us to develop cross-system strategies and other programs to support out-of-school youth. I will be the chief advocate for more state funding from Harrisburg. Over the past thirty years, the state’s share of the school budget has dropped from 55 percent to 36 percent, which is unacceptable. I will use the experience and relationships that I developed over the past three years as the chair of the Convention Center Board; we obtained sufficient state funding for a new facility. I will use those same skills in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. to obtain additional funding to address Philadelphia’s dropout crisis. Finally, I will use my excellent working relationships with the business community to bring advocacy, resources, jobs and opportunities for struggling student and out-of-school youth.
  3. In my Nutter Plan for Safety Now (, I called for the creation of a Public Safety Cabinet that would include parole and DHS officials, as well as law enforcement personnel. I would lead the effort to have all city agencies working together and combining resources, including the expansion of the successful Youth Violence Reduction Project. I will use my two appointments to the SRC to bring the School District into this collaborative effort.
  4. Yes
  5. Yes, or I would work to find state or federal funding.
  6. Yes, or I would find state or federal funding.
  7. Yes, or I would find state or federal funding.
  8. Yes, or I would work with the business community and the philanthropic community to identify outside funding for this.

Bob Brady – Democrat

  1. The job of educating our children and preparing them to enter the workforce as successful citizens does not rest with one government agency alone. Throughout my public career, I have worked to bring people together to put aside egos and their specific agendas to collaborate and cooperate with others who share the same broad goals. Specifically, in 2000 I worked to end a teacher’s strike. This strike threatened not only the education of our children, but the vitality of our economy and the productivity of our workforce. I was proud to put labor and management together to end this harmful strike. As mayor, I will bring all the stakeholders related to Project U-Turn’s citywide action agenda together and develop an immediate action plan to implement your important goals. I will then ask the federal, state and other local governments to provide the funding to achieve your objectives.
  2. I have experience bringing people together to solve difficult problems. As mayor, I will use my relationships effectively to bring critical resources to this important agenda. However, I know these resources will only come when we can demonstrate that our programs work. Therefore, I will insist on accountability at every level of public education. I will expand the use of the SchoolStat program to measure the success of new programs. I will use the success of these programs to bring the money to fund them.
  3. Every child that graduates Philadelphia schools must leave either to go to college or to a specific vocation. Education in our schools must equal hope and opportunity for our young people. I will seek funding to expand vocational training and important human services required to take care of our most vulnerable of students.
  4. Yes
  5. Yes
  6. Yes
  7. Yes
  8. Yes

Kerry Foster – Independent

  1. As a former high school dropout, I realize the importance of securing a diploma and gaining marketable skills is essential for forward mobility. Since graduating in 1982, I have dedicated my life to educating youths, young adults, single mothers and elderly throughout the Philadelphia and the greater Philadelphia area as an educator, counselor, mentor and Vice-Principal in both public and private schools. For instance, at Grace Temple Christian Academy, where I served as Vice Principal, 7029 Woodland Ave, Dr. Marilynn Miles, principal, for years we allowed those interested in returning to school to get a high school diploma. As a grassroots community activist, my participation in education and community-based initiatives promoting education, vocational skills and entrepreneurship is second-to-none as the only alternative to improving the quality of life for dropouts and drug dealers.
  2. Education is public safety. Launch a television, SEPTA and billboard ads blitz of former high school dropouts who graduated, gained viable employment, or started businesses to speak as an ambassadors of education in schools, religious institutions, community centers and events. In addition, use my life story to serve as an impetus for promoting educational opportunities and dialogue with other elected and appointed officials that stresses education as a lifeline and develop partnerships with every institution in Philadelphia such as Help Philadelphia, the Gateway program at Community College of Philadelphia, Bread upon Waters to enhance the quality of life. Seek private, state, and federal funds to assist in providing funding for both public and private school initiatives that are willing to allow adult learners and dropouts who are serious about getting their diploma. Seek business professionals who desire to mentor dropouts and help them gain a diploma and marketable skills.
  3. Since education is public safety, being a part and proponent of grassroots community initiatives, especially those that involve education, which is the heart of community development speaks voluminously to the hearts and conscience of any community. As a volunteer member of Carroll Park, a nonprofit in the West Philadelphia area, we are in progress with Triumph Developers, Philadelphia Help and PMHC to create a 17-unit transitional living facility for a population of females between the ages 18-23 who will fit all the above descriptions, assist them to get high school diplomas, marketable work skills, and employment, vocational training in the trades, and receive home ownership mentoring.
  4. Yes
  5. Yes/No
  6. Yes/No
  7. No
  8. Yes/No

No other candidates replied to the survey.

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