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The path forward: A statement from PSP’s Mark Gleason

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

As the head of the Philadelphia School Partnership, Mark Gleason sits at the heart of the school reform movement in Philadelphia.

PSP is the conduit for tens of millions in philanthropic dollars, which it deploys to support what it calls “the transformation, expansion and startup of high-performing schools.” It measures success by “the number of students in Philadelphia who move out of failing schools to better-quality school options.”

PSP also staffs such collaborative efforts as the “Great Schools Compact” and lobbies elected officials behind the scenes. Among other things, it actively supported Bill Green for chair of the School Reform Commission, lobbying state legislators to support his candidacy.

Gleason, recently named a “Reformer to Watch” by the Walton Foundation, declined Notebook requests for an interview, preferring to submit a written statement.

In listing PSP’s goals for the year to come, Gleason wrote that the organization is “impatient … Far too many children are not getting the education all children deserve.” He pledged to work with “everyone possible — the city, the state, the School District, other school leaders, teachers, parents, community groups and more” to bring about improvements to the School District of Philadelphia.

Here are the highlights from Gleason’s statement. A full version appears on the PSP website:

On the need for a funding formula

“All children in every school deserve adequate resources to receive a great education. Pennsylvania needs a fair funding formula that allocates state education funds according to student needs, and a higher percentage of those dollars needs to be controlled by principals and school communities. We should set the bar high for what students need, but we must also heed the experiences of other states, which show that:

“A. We need to increase the size of the pie. It’s hard to change the way school dollars are distributed without also increasing total school funding (which helps cushion the blow to districts whose share goes down with a new formula); and …

“B. It’s hard to win political support for massively increasing the pie. For example, Colorado voters recently soundly defeated a proposal to increase state school spending by $1 billion because of the tax impact.

“PSP is committed to working with other stakeholders to advocate for a student-based, politically viable funding formula and is part of a broad coalition of local and statewide groups that is developing a campaign for such a formula that will begin in earnest this fall.”

On the need for “predictability” of funding

“We need better predictability around state funding for schools. Districts cannot be thoughtful and strategic in planning for a new school year when they don’t know until July what their revenue will be in September; they must be able to predict as early as March what their budget for the upcoming academic year will be.

“Districts should allocate funding and resources based on the needs of students in different schools. Student-based funding is as important across the District as it is across the state. Equally important, the District should prioritize getting more resources into classrooms and schools, including more teachers, school-based administrators and classroom resources.”

On school accountability

“With more money must come more school accountability to ensure that all students are receiving an effective education. Schools that continue to struggle to serve children, whether charter- or District-run, must be warned and ultimately put under new leadership when they don’t meaningfully improve year to year.

“The only way to ensure long-term, statewide public support for higher school funding is to ensure that such funding is leading to better schools, more work- and college-ready graduates, and ultimately a stronger work force and a more robust economy.”

On charter school reimbursements

“In addition to a new school funding formula, PSP supports charter-school reimbursements for districts like Philadelphia that are experiencing growth of charter schools.

“Charter school reimbursements should be based on costs associated with new or expanding charter schools and should gradually phase out so that districts have a reasonable amount of time to shed ‘stranded’ costs that occur when students leave for charters and traditional schools cannot instantly reduce their expenses in reaction to declining enrollment.

“Reimbursements give districts time to make the necessary spending and structural adjustments and reward them for making decisions based on what’s best for students rather than because of a school’s type.”

On teacher accountability

“Great schools start with great teachers. Funding is a means to that end, but money by itself does not ensure that teachers are effective. As Pennsylvania looks to develop more student-focused funding policies, it must also pursue policies that increase schools’ ability to attract, train and retain the best teachers.”

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