The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools will hold a general assembly on Wednesday, April 17, to launch new campaigns around school funding, charter school accountability, and community schools.
The coalition, formed a year ago, has grown to include 15 labor and community-based organizations, embracing school staff, parents, students, and neighborhood activists.
Over the last year, PCAPS developed an alternative to the School Reform Commission's blueprint inspired by the Boston Consulting Group. Called “Excellent Schools for All Children,” the 40-page document drew on surveys of community stakeholders as well as research-based best practices. The plan rejected the SRC’s austerity-focused argument and called for a fight to base funding on a reordering of priorities, closing tax loopholes for corporations and using an equitable formula for allocating state revenue.
PCAPS’s other major initiative centered on school closures. Demanding a one-year moratorium on school closings, the coalition waged an aggressive campaign, winning support from more than 40 organizations and City Council. The campaign included efforts to support local school communities responding to closures as well as citywide mobilizations, lobbying and direct action. Although the moratorium campaign fell short of its goal, PCAPS leaders believe that these efforts had an impact on the final number of schools closed and built power to continue the fight.
Looking to the future, PCAPS is aiming to focus its work in three areas:
Both local and state funding must increase. In the immediate future, the focus will be primarily on city revenue, including making mega-nonprofits pay taxes on non-charitable business operations, reforming the use and occupancy tax to gain revenue from large commercial properties, and going after big tax delinquents. Longer term, the group hopes to play a role in shaping statewide campaigns in conjunction with existing advocacy networks.
Charter school accountablity
Charter schools' unchecked growth and exclusive application practices reveal the uneven playing field that charters and traditional public schools compete on. PCAPS envisions a long-term campaign that will educate the broad public about these issues and, ultimately, level this playing field. First steps include building support for State Rep. James Roebuck's bill, which would strengthen oversight of charters and raise more revenue by reforming funding, particularly for cyber charters. PCAPS will also oppose increasing the number of seats for charters. Any expansion of so-called good seats should be matched by closing chronically underperforming charters.
During the campaign for a moratorium on closings, PCAPS sought to popularize the idea of community schools as an alternative to closings. A community school is one that houses programs that enhance quality of life as well as learning for families and neighborhood residents. Typically, the choice and design of these programs are developed with community partners. Cincinnati is a model for a citywide commitment to developing community schools. PCAPS hopes to develop partnerships that can create pilot programs here.
To move these campaigns forward, the coalition is creating task forces for each of these areas. The task forces, coordinated by the steering committee, will be open to all who want to be involved. A structural weakness of the coalition over the last year was that there were limited opportunities for people to get involved who were not part of the coalition leadership. This change in how the work will be structured is aimed at correcting that.
The assembly will focus on these campaigns and seek to have those who join in help shape and build them.
Ron Whitehorne is a retired teacher and a member of the steering committee of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS).
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.