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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Asking Philly Mayoral and Council candidates about education…

Public education is THE hot topic this year, yet City Council members, Council as a whole, and the office of Mayor have a limited role in decision making in the ongoing direct management of schools. They ARE responsible for providing local funding for the district, which is a significant responsibility and they can impact our City’s approach to public education through the platform of their office by how much or little they pay attention to the district, how they use their time to interact with the people who run the District and whether they try to advocate for certain things (like whether we move toward a community schools model, have enough guidance counselors, etc). 

Good public schools are vital to the prosperity of the City, so we need to know what the candidates believe in, and how they would use their office to affect and support schools.

In upcoming forums, community meetings, debates, Council members and Mayoral candidates will be stumping for votes.  We want to make sure we are pushing them to provide a little more depth when they answer, because everyone is “for the children” – so it is time to drop that tired trope and ask: what exactly does that mean and do you understand how to use the elected office you seek in order to have an impact? 

If you get a chance to ask a question, or suggest one, we recommend the following topics. And when you ask, remind them: please address the answers to how to use the elected office they seek to affect schools: what specific steps and initiatives would they support and in what ways would they take action?

·       Do you think that Philadelphia schools have enough money to provide an adequate learning opportunity for children? If you think funding isn’t the main problem, what is the main problem and what would you do about it?
·       If you believe there should be more funding, what can members of Council and the Mayor do to increase available funding? (Since state funding is not a city issue, please address only that which is in the purview of city elected officials.)  How can we increase local support for schools?
·       For state funding: how would you go about getting more funding from Harrisburg? What do you think it will take?
·       Do you believe we should change the way we use money now? If so, what should we do differently and how could you have an impact on that, since you don’t run the schools?

What should the Superintendent’s top priority and how would you support or push them?

Community schools: What can city government officials do to support the development of community schools, including improving and aligning city services to address the needs of children.
·       How can City Council and/or the Mayor facilitate the integration of services and supports into the school environment?
·       What can you do to ensure that every community has good schools and that schools are centers for community and access to services?  Which services would you prioritize doing this for, how and on what timeline?

Governance and Accountability. 
·       What should be the primary focus of the governing body of the District?
·       What change(s) do you support to the governance of the district? 
·       If you support a different model, please say how that model would bring about change?
·       What steps can city government take to improve accountability of those who govern and run the schools?

So – what do you think needs to happen to settle the teacher’s contract?  Who should do what?

Charter Schools:
·       What is the appropriate role for charter schools in Philadelphia? 
·       Do you believe that the City of Philadelphia should have the right to limit the number of charter schools?  Do we have enough charter schools now? Too many? 
·       What needs to happen to improve charter school accountability?

·       Do you support vouchers? Why or why not? If you were asked by the Senate Majority Leader if you would like to see additional funding allocated to vouchers, would you say yes or no?

Expand Pre-K and early learning opportunities:
·       What will you do to expand the number of children in PreK? What policies will you pursue and what will be your strategy to make it happen? Please provide a target # or percent enrollment increase goal for the next four years.

Healthy Learning Environments:
·       What can you do (as Mayor or a member of City Council) to help ensure that school buildings are healthier for children?
·       School Discipline: How could you, in the role of Council person or Mayor, affect the use of city and school district resources to impact school climate and improve school discipline policy to end the “school to prison pipeline”?

Disclaimer: Yes, there are too many questions here, and they will not all get answered in every setting.  But, over time, in various venues and through the materials the candidates issue, we hope that we get a more complete and detailed sense of what they would do, how they would use their actual power and the bully pulpit that comes with holding elected office and what their priorities are. Most important is that we work together to draw them out – to push for a deeper dive, and stop the pat answers, like "I am for the children; school funding is important, I’ll get more money from Harrisburg.”