Abolish the School Reform Commission

But, let’s slow down and get it right

(Photo Left)  The dismantling of the SRC should be more measured than dramatic.

When you run for mayor, you can get away with campaign promises that have little basis in reality and still win by a landslide. You can say that you will “…work to make schools financially stable so that Harrisburg has no reason to continue to saddle Philadelphia with the [School Reform Commission]” (Teacher Action Group 2015 Mayoral Candidate Survey).

 Today, there’s a grassroots movement that doesn’t want to wait for the mayor to achieve financial stability before dismantling the SRC. In fact, they don’t want to wait till the end of the year.

The chief dismantlers are a group of activists rallying under the banner Our City, Our Schools. Their proclamation is clear: “The SRC has failed our children. It has been a 15-year failed experiment, and it needs to end today. We need the vote to abolish by the Fall of 2017 to ensure that local control takes effect by the Fall of 2018. We can’t risk our schools being under state control if a Republican Governor wins in November 2018. We remember the school closures and budget cuts under Tom Corbett and we won’t risk that ever again. We can’t afford to fail our children with this experiment.”

Their political agenda is equally clear: “Mayor Kenney and Governor Wolf should uphold their pledge to abolish the School Reform Commission through a simple majority of the School Reform Commissioners, that they both appointed.”

The group has published a four-phase timeline to achieve their goal. It begins with SRC members voting to dissolve and drafting a declaration of dissolution from the PA Secretary of Education. Then they propose a task force to provide recommendations by January 2018, followed by City Council passing legislation to get a locally controlled (and perhaps elected) school board on the ballot by May 2018. Finally, they call for an appointment/election of board members in the summer of 2018 or in the November 2018 General Election.

At the outset, let us stake out our position on local control of our school board: it is a moral imperative that should not be sacrificed by the mayor or governor for fear of budgetary retaliation from a Republican-controlled house and senate.

That said, it is important to go about the business of abolishing the SRC in a way that gives confidence to the Republican leadership in Harrisburg that we can be stewards of state education funds flowing to Philadelphia absent their oversight. Our City, Our Schools is not much of a confidence builder in this area.

First, dismantling the SRC does nothing to insure that Our City, Our Schools’ worst fear won’t come to pass: a Republican governor elected in 2018 who chooses to cut funding to Philadelphia schools. Whether there is an SRC or not, Superintendent Hite will still be going hat-in-hand to the Republican legislature in 2019.

Second, the Our City, Our Schools’ timeline is so aggressive as to be borderline delusional. It is November 2017 and neither Mayor Kenney nor Governor Wolf is on board. As the Inquirer reported late last month, “a source familiar with the Kenney administration’s internal discussions about the SRC’s future said the mayor’s support for a governance shift is less firm than some opponents of the panel are hoping.

 ‘The primary issue the administration is currently debating is whether local control will actually improve the quality of Philly schools,’ the source, who was not permitted to share knowledge of the discussions publicly, said”

The article closes with, “J.J. Abbott, spokesman for Gov. Wolf, said he was not aware of any movement to dissolve the SRC, ‘but the governor has repeatedly expressed his support for local control of the School District of Philadelphia.’”

It doesn’t sound like either of these guys is going to step up to the Our City, Our Schools plate any time soon.

Finally, Our City Our Schools needs to ditch the idea that the SRC should be replaced by an elected school board. Creating another layer of elected officials in the school funding paradigm — one without taxing authority and not beholden to City Council, the mayor, or the Republican funding stream — would create the very scenario they want to prevent: a dysfunctional political environment that can only hurt our school kids.



Abolish the School Reform Commission

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