This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
When Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney goes before voters in Tuesday’s primary, he’ll point to his record on education as a big reason why he deserves a second term.
After all, many of his banner accomplishments are related to education.
He pushed for a tax on sweetened beverages to expand access to pre-K and to create community schools that include wraparound supports. He also heeded the calls of advocates who asked him to dismantle the state-controlled School Reform Commission and reappoint a local school board.
But despite having power over the public schools in a way his predecessors did not, Kenney’s taken a somewhat restrained approach to the city’s long-struggling school system.
In some ways, Kenney has been the “non-education, education mayor.” He’s focused a lot on the issue without trying to upend the K-12 system — placing a high value on increasing resources and maintaining stability.
“I see the mayor’s overarching strategy towards education as one of investment,” said Hillary Linardopoulos, a staffer with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which backed Kenney in 2015 and again this year.
Kenney has pushed City Council to send more money to Philadelphia’s public schools, with varying success.
In 2018, he proposed a budget that would have sent $980 million to Philly schools over five years, fueled by a 6% hike in property taxes. City Council nixed the tax hike, but approved a package that officials say will add $616 million to school coffers.
Kenney also helped settle a seemingly intractable contract dispute between the PFT and school district leadership.
Overall, through Kenney’s term there’s been less headline-grabbing drama in city schools: no big layoffs, budget crises, or labor disputes.
How you view Kenney’s work with the school system probably depends on how much you value stability — and whether you think the cure for what ails Philadelphia schools is more resources.