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City Council candidates’ views on education: Wilson Goode Jr.

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?

The Notebook has been posting statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Democrat Wilson Goode Jr., who has been an at-large City Council member since 2000. He is a graduate of Central High School and the University of Pennsylvania.

My track record on supporting public schools in Philadelphia is clear. When I took office, the share of property tax dollars going to the School District was 55 percent. When the School Reform Commission was created, the District’s share was increased to 58 percent. In 2007, I introduced the Goode Public Education Reinvestment Bill, which increased the share for schools to 60 percent. I believe that 60 percent is the minimum investment we should make from property tax revenue.

I believe we should pursue local legislative authority under the Pennsylvania constitution to tax commercial and industrial properties at a higher rate than residential property to increase revenue to the School District. Until then, we should use our current authority to target the Use and Occupancy tax for the same purpose. I have and will vote for "U&O" tax increases to support schools.

I have sponsored legislation to modify the real estate tax abatement to secure the District’s portion of property taxes. I also support pursuing millions of dollars in PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) or voluntary contributions from mega-nonprofits, like universities and hospitals, to contribute to schools; I sponsored a resolution calling on the Nutter administration to revive the voluntary contribution program initiated by the Rendell administration in the 1990s.

The School District of Philadelphia has a very different population from the other districts in Pennsylvania. It requires a weighted funding formula, where factors such as poverty, special education needs, and English language learner status are considered when determining funding allotments from the state. It is crucial that the state live up to its financial obligation, and in the right way. While some disagreed with City Council hiring its own state lobbyist recently, we have skin in the game: We approved over $360 million in new local funding within the last five years. We will use our influence to achieve the goal of a weighted funding formula.

The state must also act to provide the city with relief from the rising cost of charter schools. I proudly endorsed the "No New Charters" pledge, calling for more accountability before any further expansion. The numbers don’t lie and the math doesn’t add up – the addition of even five more charter schools simply subtracts needed dollars from traditional schools.

Most important, even fully funded schools require the right school model. The most important stakeholders are parents, teachers, and the surrounding community. We need good schools to build stronger communities – but the two must grow together. Most communities have needs that are best addressed through offering comprehensive services through a new public school model like community schools. I am committed to the development of 25 unionized community schools by 2019.

Lastly, any good school model must value the role of teachers as educators – and their right to collective bargaining. I find the actions of the School Reform Commission in pursuing contract concessions through the court system to be reprehensible. I recently sponsored legislation that will require labor peace agreements with airport and hotel workers in situations where the city has a proprietary interest. We need to do the same for public school teachers. That’s one more reason that we need local control!

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