It’s time for the School District of Philadelphia to Return to Local Control, State Obligation to Adequately Fund District Schools Remains

Education Voters of PA supports the dissolution of the School Reform Commission and the return of the School District of Philadelphia to local control. Sixteen years of state control by the School Reform Commission have not solved the issues of the District. Instead, state control and grossly inadequate state funding have led to dozens of neighborhood school closures, deep cuts in programs and services in District schools, and the disenfranchisement of families, whose concerns about their children’s education were ignored by the SRC.

A change in local governance, however, will not address a very significant issue that the School District of Philadelphia faces: inadequate state funding to provide all students in the District with the educational opportunities they need to meet state standards and graduate ready for work or further education and a bright future. 

In PA, school funding is a shared responsibility between the state and local school districts. It is past time for the state legislature to determine adequacy targets for every school district – how much funding each school district needs to provide students with a high-quality education.  The state must use adequacy targets and the school funding formula to determine a reasonable and appropriate state and local share of funding required for each district to provide students with a quality education. Finally, the state must raise revenue and provide school districts with the funding they will need to reach adequacy and local communities need to ensure that they are contributing their share.

This should happen not just for Philadelphia, but for every school district in the state.  Adequacy targets are essential for communities to understand their local financial obligation to their public schools and for all Pennsylvanians to understand the state’s responsibility for funding public education.

Returning the District to local control does not let the PA legislature off the hook for providing adequate state funding to the School District of Philadelphia. State data shows that the state is not even distributing current Basic Education Funding fairly to Philadelphia.   If Philadelphia were to receive all of its BEF funding in accordance with the State Formula, it would be entitled to $403 million more dollars this year alone.  Because the state arbitrarily applies the formula only to 7% of its Basic Ed funding, Philadelphia is deprived of its fair share of the $6 billion in state aid.

In the short term, the District faces a looming deficit that is unlikely to be closed by additional state funding from a legislature that has steadfastly refused to raise the revenue necessary to adequately fund PA’s public schools.

Philadelphians will need to step up in the next few years and contribute more local dollars to fund their public schools in order to avoid another devastating round of cuts in programs and services for students. If Philadelphians are going to pay more toward funding their local schools, the District should be returned to local control.

What needs to happen next?  The SRC will need to vote to adopt a resolution to dissolve itself.  The PA Secretary of Education will then need to issue a declaration to dissolve the SRC. If the declaration is made at least 180 days prior to the end of the school year, Home Rule Charter rules will be put in place at the end of the school year.

In order for SDP to return to local control for the 2018-2019 school year, the SRC must adopt a resolution to dissolve itself by December 16th, 2017.

If the SRC chooses to dissolve itself, it does not get to choose what will replace it. Instead, the District will revert to system of school governance that was in place before the state takeover of the district –a 9-member school board that is appointed by the mayor.

There is no mechanism in place to convert an appointed board (the SRC) to an elected school board in the Home Rule Charter.  In order to make this change, City Council would need to change the charter to allow for an elected board. In addition, the PA legislature would have to pass legislation that would allow for the creation of an elected school board in Philadelphia.

Given the compressed timeframe in which the dissolution of the SRC must take place in order for the District to regain local control by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year and the difficulty the District would likely face getting legislative approval from Harrisburg to change its charter to allow an elected school board in the next few weeks, Education Voters of PA supports mayoral control of the school board at this time.

After the District is under local control, Philadelphians can and should continue to have serious conversations about the most effective form of governance for the District – an appointed board, an elected board or a board that is combination of both elected and appointed members.  What is important now is ensuring local control will be in place for the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.