Education 101: An update on education reform in Philadelphia

In April, mostly due to state cuts, the School District of Philadelphia partnered with private funders to hire the Boston Consulting Group to come up with a plan to reduce their budget.

The consultants recommended:
  • Allowing charter school enrollment to expand to serve 40% of the city’s students
  • Closing 64 schools in the next five years
  • Dividing the remaining schools into “achievement networks” to be run independently by private operators or district teams

In addition, City Council was asked for almost $100 million more than usual to help fill the budget hole. Council had doubts about the plan and ultimately authorized only $40 million for the School District.

School cafeteria workers, bus attendants, non-teaching assistants, and other school support staff were concerned about layoffs and reductions and demanded modifications to the plan to reduce staff. In contract negotiations over the summer, the union agreed to wage freezes to preserve jobs.

A new superintendent was hired by the School Reform Commission over the summer. He expressed concern about the achievement networks idea and put the plan on hold until he had time to review it. Around the same time, it was announced that the School District’s budget deficit for this year had grown to $250-$282 million.

Although much of the Boston Consulting Group’s plan is on hold, the School District will still be announcing school closures this year. And in the beginning of November, the School Reform Commission issued a bond to borrow $300 million to keep the current year’s budget balanced. There is still a $1.35 billion deficit projected over the next five years.

In August, the Philadelphia Coalition for Public Schools (PCAPS) was born. The coalition—whose members include Bread & Roses grantees Youth United for Change and Philadelphia Student Union, as well as Action United, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers—is trying to define a community-based vision for schools.

PCAPS’ goal is to engage all Philadelphians in creating quality schools for all students and eventually mobilizing Philadelphians to get Harrisburg to undo massive cuts in the state’s share of education funding.

In November, the coalition gathered community input to create an alternative to the school reform plan that the School District of Philadelphia offered last spring. The alternative plan is scheduled for release in mid-December.

For a more detailed summary and list of sources, please visit breadrosesfund.org.

Photo: Action United

Photo: Action United

Photo: Our City Our Schools

Photo: Our City Our Schools