The Board of Education Calls Upon the City’s Next Mayor to Support Four Key Priorities in an Open Letter on the Board’s Education Platform
It takes a village to educate our children. Parents and guardians, family members, educators, counselors, school leaders, nurses, support staff, our partners and more wrap their collective arms around our students to provide the academic, social and emotional support that our learners need to thrive and succeed. Also, our Mayor and City Council Members, who authorize nearly half of public school funding in Philadelphia, have an outsized role in ensuring that our children have the resources they need to achieve their greatest potential.
The Board of Education is calling upon our city’s next Mayor and City Council Members to support four key priorities to ensure the academic achievement and well-being of every student:
- Fully fund the city’s district and charter schools;
- Upgrade school facilities;
- Address gun violence;
- Provide incentives to help fully staff schools.
Fully Funding the District’s Schools
The School District of Philadelphia is the only school district in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that cannot raise its own taxes, and the district is completely dependent on our local and state elected officials to provide the resources necessary to ensure that every student in the city has access to a quality public education that prepares them for future success.
According to an analysis by the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center, the School District would need an additional $1.14 billion annually to meet the educational needs of our learners. This includes an additional $318 million in annual funding from the city. So we are calling on city officials to balance the needs of our students with the needs of residents, and to commit to fully funding our schools by increasing the annual appropriations by $318 million within four years.
Upgrading School Facilities
Our goal is to ensure that schools are safe, welcoming and healthy spaces where students and staff want to be and learn each day. The average age of our school buildings is 70 years old; and according to a 2017 analysis of School District facilities, the district’s deferred maintenance costs total $4.5 billion. At least 85 of our buildings should be considered for renovation, and 21 buildings should be considered for closure and replacement.
That said, we are making substantial investments in capital and environmental improvements to our school facilities. Last year, we committed to investing $325 million of federal stimulus funds over four years on major projects and renovations. This was in addition to bringing our total capital investments to $2 billion over the next six years. Current improvements include: new construction and renovation projects, including classroom additions, playgrounds, parking facilities, and major interior and exterior improvements; and environmental improvements including asbestos-related abatement actions, “lead safe” or “lead-free” certifications and the installation of 1,665 hydration stations. But more resources are needed from our city and state partners to make sure all of our students are learning in safe buildings that prepare them for future success.
Addressing Gun Violence
There is an urgent need to decrease levels of gun violence in the city to keep our learners safe – wherever they are – but especially as they go to and from school. We applaud the work of Mayor Kenney and City Council to address this current crisis, but more needs to be done to protect our young people. The School District has put in place a number of measures to address safe passage to and from school. However, addressing gun violence requires a coordinated, comprehensive response, so we ask the next Mayor and City Council to support putting programs in place to keep students safe when they are not in school. These include:
- increasing safe corridors around all schools;
- ensuring young people have safe places to go – such as libraries and rec centers – after school, on weekends, during the summer, and other times when schools are closed;
- creating safety zones around schools and enforcing gun laws, including the prohibition on gun possession by minors; and
- expanding the School District’s mental health services that support the social and emotional health of our school communities.
Providing Incentives for Fully Staffed Schools
The School District of Philadelphia is at a disadvantage to competitively recruit and retain staff when compared to better-funded suburban districts, as District staff make less on average than equally experienced and credentialed peers. Additionally, our staff face challenges exacerbated by the priorities listed above, namely: outdated facilities, gun violence and inadequate funding. We are calling on the next Mayor and City Council Members to partner with the School District on recruitment and retention efforts by providing: street parking around schools for school staff; SEPTA passes for school-based staff who use public transit; and loan forgiveness, housing vouchers, or other incentives for city residents to work in Philadelphia schools.
The Board of Education greatly appreciates the support for public education that City Council and Mayor Kenney have given to the School District over the years. It is our collective responsibility to come together and serve as a village for our children to support, educate, protect and inspire them to reach their greatest potential – oftentimes overcoming the daunting challenges many face every day.
Reginald L. Streater, Esq.
Board of Education President, School District of Philadelphia