PSP calls for increased education funding paired with common sense reforms

Today, Miles Wilson testified during City Council Budget Hearings to support the increased revenue from the city and state and contract changes. Here is his full testimony:

Good afternoon Mr. President and Council members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

My name is Miles Wilson and I’m with the Philadelphia School Partnership. The Partnership is a nonprofit working to help create and expand high-performing schools that serve students from low-income communities in the city. Last week our Great Schools Fund announced 6 million dollars in grants to support three innovative district high schools as they expand to add 1,600 additional students. Since 2011 we have committed nearly 20 million dollars to more than twenty schools of all different types. The Fund is on its way to raising and investing 100 million over five years, with the vast majority of that going to public schools. We also created and now manage GreatPhillySchools, a free, multimedia information resource for students and their families to learn about more than 400 schools of all types. And we provide facilitation, fundraising and project management for the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact. The Compact is a collaborative effort among the School District, city charter and Catholic schools, the Mayor, and the state to ensure every student in Philadelphia has access to a high-quality school.

I serve as director of the Compact, and I’m here today on behalf of the members of the Great Schools Compact and the Philadelphia School Partnership not just to support Superintendent Hite, the Mayor, and many civic leaders in the recommendation for more funding for city schools, but to support the bold transformation that they—that we—must pursue. That we already are pursuing.

There has been much talk of the historic nature of the School District’s financial crisis. It is not a bluff. If it seemed like one in the past few years, that’s because the District formed the habit of borrowing to cover its shortfalls. Only now the District has a total debt exceeding 3 billion dollars. And we’re paying 11 cents of every dollar – that’s meant for kids – to banks and other bondholders. Just for interest. It’s not a coincidence that the District’s annual interest expense is nearly equal to the size of the budget gap. That’s a tax of a different kind—but one that hurts rather than helps our ability to educate kids in the long run.

The collaboration that is occurring is also historic. No other city has the variety and number of education stakeholders committed to a common set of goals. The crisis and the collaboration have come together to create an historic opportunity—not to begin a bold transformation, but to accelerate one that already is under way and make our schools more productive places of learning for every child.

Seizing the day requires courage and boldness from you, the stewards of our city and its neighborhoods. But also from others. This must be Philadelphia’s time for coming together…for working together. Achieving fiscal sustainability and school improvement requires an interconnected set of investments in the futures of our students, our teachers and our educational leaders. As the superintendent and others have noted, these crucial investments include:

  • new revenue from the state
  • restoring a weighted student funding formula at the state
  • restructuring and updating of collective bargaining agreements to yield both cost savings and the flexibility needed to better match human resources to student needs throughout the system

Investing precious city taxpayer dollars in our schools will not get the job done alone. This is a challenging time, and our public schools now depend on the actions of many, but you will not be investing to start a transformation. You will be investing to build on one that is already under way:

  • Under a dedicated and clear-eyed SRC, the District has made the difficult, painful but necessary decisions to cut hundreds of administrative jobs, and close under-enrolled and under-performing schools
  • Using its Renaissance program, the District has launched turnarounds at more than 30 schools, gaining dramatically better academic outcomes for students in many cases
  • The District has pursued innovation, revamping teacher development and testing more personalized learning strategies, and now it’s preparing to launch a virtual learning school next fall
  • For the first time in history, the District is working hand in hand with charters and even Catholic schools to ensure the needs of students and families come first
  • The District has proposed reasonable changes to labor agreements that are their biggest cost driver so they can channel resources more efficiently to students and schools that need them most
  • Last summer members of SEIU took a bold early step, agreeing to similar changes in their contract
  • Last summer members of Council found a way to dig deep and provide $40 million in new school funding
  • And there is a unified effort by business, nonprofit, and civic leaders under way to push for a funding formula in Harrisburg that would ensure students in Philadelphia get their fair share of state funding

Probably everyone in this room believes the state must step up with additional funding for the School District. The City can set the stage and start a winning push to make sure that happens.

Talk of a funding formula brings Pittsburgh to mind. Without a student-based funding formula, Pittsburgh has largely maintained its share of state funding despite enrollment declines. But we must keep in mind that Pittsburgh’s higher per-pupil funding also stems from a bigger local revenue commitment. Forty-five percent of Pittsburgh school funding comes from local sources, vs. 34 percent here. Other big cities like New York and Chicago also get around 45 percent of school funding from local taxes.

Finally, allow me to urge you to consider the symmetry of what the District seeks:

  • When about 10 percent of District schools are being closed, parents and students sacrifice
  • When SEIU made concessions worth about 10 percent of their contract, workers sacrificed
  • The District is lobbying the state to increase its funding by 10 percent, meaning state taxpayers would sacrifice
  • The District seeks savings in the teachers and principals contracts of about 10 percent, matching support workers, and requiring sacrifices from dedicated educators
  • And $60 million more from the City—when combined with last year’s $40 million, also equals about a 10 percent increase

This is a time of shared sacrifice and shared opportunity. Not just to save a system, but to make it more capable of fulfilling its mission. Please don’t let the moment pass.

Thank you, Council President Clarke, Chairwoman Blackwell, and members of Council for having us here today and for your continued commitment to our schools.