Donate today!
view counter

Education issues to consider in the mayoral race

By James Lytle on Nov 26, 2014 03:00 PM

Although the mayoral primary isn’t until May, prospective candidates for mayor are already testing their prospects. 

Four have already announced their intentions to run: former head of the city's Redevelopment Authority Terry Gillen, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. In the view of many Philadelphians, there is no more important issue than the future of public education in the city. And advocacy groups like the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools are already determining what issues to focus on and which candidates they might support.

In some respects the issues seem obvious: increased funding, local control, and restored services like libraries, counselors, and nurses. But the devil is in the details. What specifically would the candidates do? What is the candidate’s record on support for city schools? What experience does the candidate have in dealing with City Council and Harrisburg? 

Recently released census data has reminded us that Philadelphia is the poorest of the country’s 10 largest cities. It has the highest proportion of families in poverty. That suggests that children are not going to prosper unless the next mayor takes a holistic view of the city’s challenges and sees the job as dealing with employment, health and mental health care, public safety, food and nutrition, transportation, and other needs.

At the top of the agenda is a permanent solution for the School District’s seemingly perpetual financial crises. The $2-per-pack cigarette tax is now in place, although the projected revenue from this source has already been reduced. That makes the most immediate issue a fair formula for distributing state education aid. Crafting one may be an opportunity for a Democratic governor and Republican legislature to collaborate, but because this matter affects districts across the state, a new formula, if adopted, would not necessarily increase funding for Philadelphia schools. State revenues are already below estimates, and the prospect for an increased allocation for K-12 education is unlikely in the short term.

So one obvious question for mayoral candidates would be: How do they propose to raise additional funds (or cut costs)? The primary source for District revenues in the city is the real estate tax, which both the mayor and City Council have been unwilling to consider as a source for increased District support. But they have been generous with tax abatements for both residential and business properties, cutting the District out of an obvious source of additional revenue. Then there are the cigarette, sales tax surcharge, use and occupancy, and over-the-bar drink taxes.

The issue of local control does not necessarily solve the revenue problem either. Before there was a School Reform Commission, there was a Board of Education (appointed by the mayor), but unlike every other school board in Pennsylvania, it had no taxing authority. Instead, District budgets and tax authorization were the purview of City Council, making the School District dependent on its elected officials and school finance problems commonplace.

To address local control, several large cities, notably New York and Chicago, have eliminated their school boards and made their public schools a part of city government under mayoral control, but that approach has not always translated to increased financial support.

Another looming issue is that the cigarette tax approval was conditional on the SRC accepting new charter school applications, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will soon decide on lifting charter school enrollment caps. The city’s charter schools already educate more than a third of children in public schools, and charter school expansion would further complicate District finances. Where do mayoral candidates stand on this issue?

Then there are more specific issues. How can services to special needs students, recent immigrants, and English language learners be improved? Is it possible to have more school closings or employee givebacks to reduce budget problems without reducing educational quality? What can be done to satisfy middle-class families with young children who threaten to abandon District schools? How should schools be held to account? Is high school completion more important than test scores? Should charter schools be required to publish detailed annual budgets and audit reports? How can the city’s extraordinary higher education, medical, cultural and community resources contribute to educating school-aged children?

Mayoral candidates have a duty to respond in detailed ways to all these issues and questions and should be able to articulate a vision for Philadelphia that would make this an attractive place to live, work, raise children, and locate a business. Their responses should determine which candidate parents, advocates and registered voters choose to support. 


James H. Lytle is Practice Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, a former District administrator, and a former superintendent in Trenton.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Click Here
view counter

Comments (11)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 26, 2014 2:34 pm

Hardy Williams is going to be backed by charter school money funneled by Lenfest.

Submitted by Pension Ponzi (not verified) on November 26, 2014 3:43 pm

There's NEVER going to be any improvement in school budgets because of PSERS $60 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.  It's only going to get worse. 

Submitted by Pension Ponzi (not verified) on November 26, 2014 3:45 pm

There's NEVER going to be any improvement in school budgets because of PSERS $60 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.  It's only going to get worse. 

Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on November 26, 2014 11:18 pm

Nonsense. First of all, the $60 billion deficit is a combined debt from both PSERS and SERS. So get your facts straight.  The main cause of this shortfall is the 14 year employer contribution holiday.  That holiday is over. The markets have improved so that with added investment from the state, the funds will gradually come back to full health. Remember that in all that time, employees never stopped contributing their share. They can of course raise the rate of employee contributions, but the state must repair the damage done by its own malfeasance.

Submitted by pension ponzi (not verified) on December 1, 2014 4:09 am

Google "Dropout Nation, Pennsylvania's Exploding Teachers' Pension Crisis".   These are the facts--NO increase to PSERS has been made by Corbett's administration.  Any increase to the bankrupt PSERS will have to wait until next year, when Wolf has to work with a Repub legislature and a $2 billion deficit.  

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 1, 2014 7:19 am

This article says a solution to the pension deficit due to the state not funding its portion of the pension for more than a decade has been in the works, but the natural gas industry is trying to steal this too.

"What's at stake if Philly becomes an energy hub?" | Philadelphia City Paper - 11/26/14

"Hughes contends that the city's proposed contract with UIL should be amended so that some of the $420 to $630 million in sale proceeds earmarked for shoring up the depleted public pension fund would instead pay for promotion of a regional energy hub, to build public support and improve environmental protections."




Submitted by Gloria Endres (not verified) on December 1, 2014 1:36 pm

Thank you. Of course when the gas and oil companies ask for tax breaks it is all wonderful and desirable. God forbid any of it should benefit retired workers on a fixed income.

Submitted by gurjit (not verified) on December 1, 2014 11:09 pm

here is that the list of top ten Co-education Boarding Schools in India

Submitted by Pervez74 (not verified) on April 16, 2017 7:11 am

Thanks a lot for the purpose of decent article marketing. It was clearly vital perhaps even necessary to read. Now click here follow-up payday loans  Best of luck for good work.

Submitted by hotmail login (not verified) on May 31, 2017 11:05 pm

This is one of the cult game now, a lot of people enjoy playing them . Also you can refer to the game : animal jam 2 five nights at freddys 2 | hotmail login

Submitted by Jeffery jay (not verified) on September 5, 2017 5:32 am

A truly educated man always seeks perfection. He is not a specialist who has perfected only his body or the intellect or the mind but one who seeks the development of all his faculties. 70-410 braindump

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy