This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A new Pew poll shows that education now ranks as the most important issue among voters in the city – and more than three-fourths of those surveyed rated the schools as poor or fair.
What can be done? The May 19 primary election could effectively determine the next mayor and City Council members. The direction of the city on education issues is up for grabs.
In eight years, Michael Nutter made education a priority, boosted city funding, and helped select two school superintendents. But neither of them was able to overcome a horrific budget crisis or unify a polarized community around an education agenda. Voters should press candidates on how they would fund schools and resolve the debilitating labor-management and charter vs. District battles.
Meanwhile, proposals from Nutter and Gov. Wolf would generate most of the new revenue the District has requested: $206 million from Harrisburg and $103 million from the city. The initial $80 million covers an existing gap, but this still could be the first time since the fiscal tsunami of 2011 that the schools can start to mend the damage.
Wolf’s ambitious funding plan proposes increases in various state taxes to raise $2 billion more for schools statewide over the next four years, coupled with $3.8 billion in local tax relief. There is already pressure to scale back or torpedo that plan. We need to let state legislators know that the $2 billion is the least the state should do to rectify a school funding system recently flagged as the nation’s most unfair.
Locally, Nutter has proposed boosting property taxes by 9 percent. That needed revenue could be raised in other ways. But Council needs to stop playing games: We have accepted intolerable conditions for too long and thereby conveyed to students that we hardly care about their futures. The city must do its part to restore the basics every school should have.