In the wake of Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts in 2011 and the release of the Boston Consulting Group’s school transformation blueprint in 2012, which promoted school closings and expanded private management, many in Philadelphia have aggressively challenged the School Reform Commission’s leadership of city schools.
Using the tactics available to social movements, hundreds of activists have worked to educate the public about the issues facing our schools. Protests have demanded full and equitable funding, opposed mass school closings and charter expansion, and decried attacks on the District’s unionized workforce.
A new poll, commissioned by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and conducted by the Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates, suggests that this work is having an impact.
Among the 554 Philadelphia voters surveyed, three-quarters are dissatisfied with Corbett’s handling of education, with nearly two-thirds saying they are less likely to support him for re-election because of this issue. That figure includes more than half of respondents who are not registered Democrats. The survey also found that 59 percent of voters and 64 percent of public school parents disapprove of the SRC’s decisions and policies.
These results were remarkably consistent across demographic groups. Significantly, the dissatisfaction with the governor was almost as high among whites as with blacks, about 75 percent. Although dissatisfaction was higher with parents (79 percent), it was high among non-parents (73 percent) as well.
The survey shows that more than two-thirds of voters would prefer that the SRC be replaced by a school board. Voters will most likely have a chance to express themselves on this question this fall with the Working Families Party and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) petitioning for a ballot question on the local control of schools.
Poll respondents also weighed in on the negotiation between the District and the PFT, taking the teachers’ union’s side by a 4-1 ratio. Support was even stronger among parents. In the African American community, support was twice as high as among whites, a significant shift from the past.
Here’s how the respondents saw the two sides on four areas related to public education and the contract.
Respondents, by a nearly 6-1 ratio, were against imposing a contract. Even the minority who favor the SRC’s position in the negotiations favor continuing negotiations rather than imposing a contract. These results too were consistent across demographic groups.
Of course, the SRC, as it has done in the past, may simply ignore the groundswell of opposition and continue on its present course, including imposing non-economic contract provisions. But what this poll indicates is that a price may be paid for these actions in November: The Democratic candidates for governor have all indicated they would support returning Philadelphia's schools to local control. Should the Democratic nominee win, the school-takeover law that created the SRC could be repealed.
Three weeks ago, more than a hundred people went out canvassing in the rain to get registered voters to sign a pledge to vote for candidates who support full and fair funding, charter school accountability, shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline, and restoring our schools to local control.
This campaign, started by PCAPS, aims at getting 25,000 voters in the city to sign this “education voter” pledge, followed by an effort to get them out to vote. The response to this campaign, like the results of this poll, demonstrates that there is a growing base among the electorate in our city for a progressive alternative to the free-market-driven education policies pursued by the School Reform Commission.
Ron Whitehorne is a retired teacher and a coordinator for the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS).
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.