by Mark Gleason, Executive Director
At the Philadelphia School Partnership, all of our work is focused on ensuring that every child in Philadelphia can attend a school that prepares students for college and careers. PSP’s policy positions and priorities are shaped by our experiences funding more than two dozen District, charter and private schools serving predominantly low-income students. To date, we have invested nearly $35 million to give more than 15,000 students access to higher-quality schools. Based on our experience working with schools over the last three years, we believe and continue to advocate for the following:
– All children in every school deserve adequate resources to receive a great education. Pennsylvania needs a fair funding formula that allocates state education funds according to student needs, and a higher percentage of those dollars needs to be controlled by principals and school communities. We should set the bar high for what students need, but we must also heed the experiences of other states, which show that:
- We need to increase the size of the pie. It’s hard to change the way school dollars are distributed without also increasing total school funding (which helps cushion the blow to districts whose share goes down with a new formula); and
- It’s hard to win political support for massively increasing the pie. For example, Colorado voters recently soundly defeated a proposal to increase state school spending by $1 billion because of the tax impact.
PSP is committed to working with other stakeholders to advocate for a student-based, politically viable funding formula and is part of a broad coalition of local and statewide groups that is developing a campaign for such a formula that will begin in earnest this fall.
– We need better predictability around state funding for schools. Districts cannot be thoughtful and strategic in planning for a new school year when they don’t know until July what their revenue will be in September; they must be able to predict as early as March what their budget for the upcoming academic year will be.
– Districts should allocate funding and resources based on the needs of students in different schools. Student-based funding is as important across the District as it is across the state.
– With more money must come more school accountability to ensure that all students are receiving an effective education. Schools that continue to struggle to serve children, whether charter- or District-run, must be warned and ultimately put under new leadership when they don’t meaningfully improve year to year. The only way to ensure long-term, statewide public support for higher school funding is to ensure that such funding is leading to better schools, more work- and college-ready graduates, and ultimately a stronger work force and a more robust economy.
– In addition to a new school funding formula, PSP supports charter-school reimbursements for districts like Philadelphia that are experiencing growth of charter schools. Charter school reimbursements should be based on costs associated with new or expanding charter schools and should gradually phase out so that districts have a reasonable amount of time to shed “stranded” costs that occur when students leave for charters and traditional schools cannot instantly reduce their expenses in reaction to declining enrollment. Reimbursements give districts time to make the necessary spending and structural adjustments and reward them for making decisions based on what’s best for students rather than because of a school’s type.
– Great schools start with great teachers. Funding is a means to that end, but money by itself does not ensure that teachers are effective. As Pennsylvania looks to develop more student-focused funding policies, it must also pursue policies that increase schools’ ability to attract, train and retain the best teachers.
We are impatient about achieving all of the above because far too many children are not getting the education all children deserve. We try to work with everyone possible—the city, the state, the School District, other school leaders, teachers, parents, community groups and more—to achieve these things. As Philadelphia prepares to enter another challenging school year, we hope we can work together even more closely to: continue expanding great schools; ensure teachers get the training and support they need; provide resources for parents to more easily engage in their children’s education; and help establish a fair student funding formula in Pennsylvania.