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City Council candidates’ views on education: Jenné Ayers

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?

We are posting statements from City Council candidates responding to these prompts in the order we received them. Today’s statement comes from Democrat Jenné Ayers, 26, a graduate of Masterman and Harvard University. She will graduate from Yale Law School this spring.

Responses were edited for length and clarity.

As a 2006 graduate of Masterman, the current state of the School District saddens me. Our schools are underfunded and under-resourced. Youth in disadvantaged communities have an uphill battle toward college and career that is unjustifiable.

These conditions did not occur overnight. They are the result of decades of de-prioritization and imprudence. This urgent need for transformation compelled me to run for City Council. How can we implement the best solutions when those who have been taught in the School District within the past decade are absent from the policymaking table? It’s time for a breath of fresh air.

Without a doubt, the full and equitable funding of our schools must be our No. 1 priority. I completely disagree with the School Reform Commission’s decision to approve five new charter school applications. Furthermore, pursuing teachers’ contract concessions in the absence of an agreement is an injustice to our teachers, who do the angel’s work of helping our children succeed. In fact, I have co-written an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court about the importance of safeguarding workers’ ability to unionize.

As a member of City Council, I will work with other elected officials to put pressure on Harrisburg to reverse the funding cuts made by former Gov. Tom Corbett and implement a fair, sustainable, and weighted funding formula. But the state is not the sole source of funding for the School District. I support many of the proposed new sources of local funding, especially the revision of the 10-year tax abatement so that the School District’s portion is no longer abated. This change alone would have resulted in an additional $50 million in revenue for the School District in 2014.

Nevertheless, throwing money at a broken system won’t necessarily improve outcomes for Philadelphia’s youth. With a 12 percent deep-poverty rate — the highest of the nation’s largest cities — we need comprehensive and actionable solutions. As a former nonprofit consultant, I worked with and studied public education ecosystems across the country. I learned that in order to move the needle toward change, we must implement practical solutions with sustainable impact. There are two important initiatives that I will help champion.

First, I will commit to helping create 25 community schools over the course of my first term in office. The community school model recognizes that public schools are the centers of our communities. In addition to being sites of academic excellence, neighborhood schools will be transformed into places where children and community members have access to social services, legal aid, health services, and employment resources.

Second, I will propose legislation to create a commission with the purpose of facilitating data-driven coordination between the School District, education-focused foundations, afterschool providers and the Department of Human Services. Collaboration could easily begin, for example, around procurement, health services, and libraries. This commission will ensure that all stakeholders are aligned around the same student achievement benchmarks and metrics — from kindergarten readiness to post-secondary degree completion. Additionally, the commission will facilitate data-sharing between the entities to improve the delivery of our children’s wraparound services.

As a member of City Council, I will be a tireless champion for Philadelphia’s children and their teachers.

Read the responses from other City Council candidates

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