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City Council candidates’ views on education: Tom Wyatt

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

On May 19, Philadelphians will hit the polls to winnow the field of City Council at-large candidates. Out of 28 declared candidates, only seven will be elected in November (including at least two from a minority party). Each party can run five candidates in the general election. The Notebook reached out to the candidates, asking their opinions on the election’s most gripping issue: education.

Where do candidates stand on the School Reform Commission’s decision to approve five new charter school applications? Whose job is it to find more money for public schools, the city’s or the District’s? Absent an agreement with the teachers’ union, do they think the SRC is right to pursue concessions through the courts? And finally, what ideas do they have for how the District can fix its financial problems?

Over the next few weeks, we will post statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Democrat Tom Wyatt, a partner at the law firm Dilworth Paxson, the Passyunk Square Civic Association’s education committee chair, and a former Mississippi public school teacher.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

The SRC faced an unenviable task: to evaluate the 39 new charter school proposals in front of them on merit alone, while facing immense financial and political pressure. The SRC made a tough decision. I am encouraged by their ability to strike a balance, by approving only charter operators with proven track records of serving Philadelphia students while also remaining fiscally responsible.

This decision, however, underscores our need for a full and fair funding formula that takes into account the individual needs of students and the impact of charters on District school costs. We must have a funding formula that fairly allocates resources to all of our classrooms and enables our teachers to be successful.

Both the city and School District of Philadelphia must work together to find more money for public education in Philadelphia. With no independent taxing authority, the District depends on funding from the city, state, and federal governments. Relative to other large cities, the School District is significantly underfunded. I strongly support a fair funding formula. However, the District must be accountable and transparent with the money that it spends and must be a responsible steward of the resources being used to educate our students.

A protracted legal battle in the court system is not a prudent approach for pursuing contract concessions. The time, cost, and energy that would be expended in the court system would be an inappropriate use of already limited resources. I would work to bring all parties back to the negotiation table. We need to build more partnerships between our stakeholders, not draw lines in the sand.

In order to improve education, we need to inject more resources into our severely underfunded School District. There is a fundamental unfairness in our commonwealth and in the city around school funding, which sets up some children to succeed and some children to fail. We need a fair funding formula, which provides money to districts based on the number of students that are enrolled in its schools and the specific needs of these children. Geography shouldn’t determine a student’s trajectory.

The state’s engagement in this crisis is imperative. The solution will require strong and cohesive local leadership that can work with both Gov. Wolf and a Republican legislature. I am committed to working with our newly elected mayor and colleagues on City Council to ensure the Commonwealth’s largest district is at the table, speaking with one unified and urgent voice. I am uniquely positioned to provide this leadership, because of my experience on the ground in the community, in the classroom as a teacher, and in the boardroom as a senior executive in a large public company.

More funding alone will not get it done. We must also be careful stewards of the money we have to spend by evaluating how we are investing it and making sure that each dollar is tied to proven methods that best prepare our children for success. In order to properly invest in education of the future, we must identify, improve, and scale up what is working in our schools.

See the responses from other City Council candidates

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