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 couple weeks, we will post statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Republican David Oh, who is a current at-large City Council member and a graduate of Central High School.
Responses were edited for length and clarity.
I believe Philadelphia must improve neighborhood public schools. But until we solve our schools problem systemically, so that we raise the overall quality of public education, we should not deny parents the option of choosing to send their children to public charter schools. It is in the best educational interest of the children.
The School Reform Commission is the governing body for determining the need for more charter schools in Philadelphia. Its recent decision to accept five new charter school applications was made after a thorough evaluation process. For these reasons, I have no objections to its decision to accept five new charter school applications.
The adequate funding of our schools is a public responsibility of the District and all levels of government – city, state, and federal. I serve at the city level of government. If the District and state and federal government fail our children, we have to do what we can at the city level to fund our children’s education.
I have been an advocate for implementing best practices in public education as a practical method for solving our schools’ problems. It is the city’s responsibility to work cooperatively and constructively with the state to examine these best practices of nations and localities that have closed achievement gaps and raised achievement levels for all students through equitable spending on school resources for delivering a first-rate, 21st-century educational curriculum.
Absent an agreement on the teachers’ contract, while I do not favor resorting to the courts to address the failure of labor-management relations, the SRC made a decision based on facts and testimonies that I was not privy to. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to take a position absent a thorough examination of the facts.
Fiscal distress should be addressed by best practices. Offering my solution, last fall, I introduced a charter change bill to re-form the Philadelphia Board of Education in preparation for a return to local control of the Philadelphia School District. The proposed legislation provides for a new method and new qualifications for appointing and electing the members of the Board of Education of the School District and establishing new standards and policies to ensure academic excellence and efficient, economical and effective operation and management of the School District of Philadelphia.