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Cuts could put graduation gains at risk, Nutter and others warn

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

A key author of a new report showing rising graduation rates in Philadelphia, especially among vulnerable student groups, warned that the impact of recent District budget cuts has not yet shown up in the data and could affect future classes.

"Many of the support staff that made this possible are not in the District today … due to the funding disruptions of the last couple of years," said David Rubin, a physician and the founding co-director of the Policy Lab at Children’s Hospital, which helped write the report. He spoke along with Mayor Nutter, Superintendent William Hite, and others at a briefing that formally rolled out the report, called "A Promise Worth Keeping."

It was commissioned by Project U-Turn, a coalition focused on reducing the dropout rate and seeing more city youth complete high school and enter college.

Rubin said afterward that it would be important to keep track of whether early warning indicators among younger students — absenteeism, poor academic performance and discipline problems – are becoming more prevalent and being dealt with. The last cohort of students followed in the report was the group of 9th graders who started high school in 2008, Rubin noted, adding that their trajectory was likely "baked" before the brunt of the budget cuts set in.

"The challenge is greater today than it was two years ago," he said.

Nutter also touted the graduation rate gains, but put in a new plea for City Council to pass his proposal for raising the property tax by 9.34 percent. None of the mayoral candidates, including Democratic nominee Jim Kenney, supported the mayor’s proposal, instead floating other ideas for raising revenue that, according to Nutter, would not be recurring or would not raise enough money.

"These gains were achieved despite insufficient public education funding during a time of profound change," Nutter said.

For the typical homeowner, Nutter’s proposed property tax hike would amount to barely $100 a year, he said.

He said that he understands that people don’t like to pay more taxes, "but if you think [education] is too expensive, try poverty, try crime. … You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, a mathematician, or an economist to sort through what we should be doing."

Nutter had set as a goal of his administration a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent by 2015. That rate now stands at 70 percent. The four-year rate is 65 percent, up from 52 percent.

Asked whether he was satisfied, Nutter said he was not. "But I wanted to put forward some ambitious goals, something to strive toward," he said.

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