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Education takes a back seat

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

Last week Mayor Nutter delivered his budget address – highlights of which you can find at It’s Our Money – but left out a central message: public education. Not once did the mayor talk about public schools or public education. He didn’t even mention the word dropout.

The disappointment doesn’t just lie with the mayor. It didn’t appear to me that anyone from the School Reform Commission was in the audience either.

The mayor did make a brief reference to schools when he said Philadelphia has an education system where too many fall through the cracks. He spoke about literacy (but mostly adult literacy) and truancy. But he didn’t speak concretely about the public schools, which has typically been one of his core messages.

Things I would have liked to have heard?

  • Some discussion of PILOTs (payment in lieu of taxes) for the city’s largest non-profits like Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the University of Pennsylvania who are exempt from property tax payments, which fund our schools. Last week the Daily News did an excellent story on how the City has allowed PILOT agreements to expire, resulting in potential massive losses for the schools and the city.
  • How about some scrutiny of the Philadelphia Parking Authority? In the years since Parents United went after the PPA, the Authority has raked in millions more dollars with increased parking fines and fees. And yet the structure of the agency remains largely the same, with millions of dollars going to political cronyism rather than to the City and School District.
  • A re-energized focus on the school income tax, which is an obligatory tax for all Philadelphians. The catch is, you have to independently fill out the form. The Mayor could and should be a messenger to remind people of the importance of making sure they fill out the form.

It’s true this is a state-run school system, but in the past several years, Harrisburg has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars through a new (and fragile) education funding formula while the city saw its contribution to the public schools actually dip this past year. It’s important to remind Harrisburg that local funding of our schools is front and center on the city agenda as well.

Moreover, the mayor in the past has always made sure that public schools were front and center for everyone. It’s a shame to see education and our public schools drop off the radar even in a budget address – or from my viewpoint, especially in a budget address.

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