For more than a decade, Larry Jones has been a prominent supporter of Philadelphia’s charter schools, particularly the smaller, community-based variety that proliferated in the wake of the 2001 state takeover.
He has run the 350-student Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School since it opened in 2001; since 2006, he has also served as president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Jones’ advocacy frequently highlights the distinctions between the interests of small schools like his and those of the larger providers now running networks of schools. We asked him to reflect on the potential impact of the current budget proposals on the kinds of schools he represents and the ways that charter supporters could collaborate with traditional public school advocates to advance their mutual interest in adequate, sustained funding for schools of all kinds.
With all the questions swirling around this year’s education budget, virtually everyone agrees on one thing: It won’t solve the Philadelphia School District’s big problems. Union officials, charter advocates, School Reform Commission officials, parent groups, Mayor Nutter, even President Obama’s top education official, agree that under the current status quo, Philadelphia students are not getting the education they deserve.
With that in mind, the Notebook has asked education advocates to weigh in on the bigger question: What’s the long-term path to a truly stable, well-funded, reliable school system? Over the next few weeks, we’ll run a series of Q&As with local leaders and ask for their thoughts on the route to a better place.
Our first interviewee is Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania, an advocacy group. A 20-year veteran of political activism in Pennsylvania, Gobreski’s goal is to fight for a “thorough and efficient public education” for all students, District and charter alike.
After winning a major victory in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, the proposed cigarette tax for Philly schools appears stalled in a game of legislative pingpong.
On Tuesday, the Senate sent the bill back to the House by adding amendments, and now the House isn't scheduled to reconsider the measure until Aug. 4.
School leaders say that leaves plans for opening schools in September in total disarray.
Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams has been criticized for being the only Philadelphia Democrat in the Senate to vote for an amendment that would "sunset" the $2-a-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia schools after five years.
In a statement sent to reporters, Williams said he did so as the best choice available to get the tax approved.
Following is the text of his statement:
A panel will begin studying how Pennsylvania could better allocate money for public education after Gov. Corbett signed legislation establishing the commission this week.
Education funding in Pennsylvania is currently divided and sent to the state's 500 school districts based on the whim of the Legislature.
Education advocates have been pressing for a rational, data-driven formula that takes into account a district's actual enrollment numbers and student demographic data – reasoning that impoverished students and English-language learners should receive a greater share of the state's basic education subsidy.
Updated | 11:30 p.m.
The School Reform Commission declined Thursday to adopt a budget proposal that would raise class sizes as high as 41, cut 800 teachers, reduce special education services to their bare minimum, prevent all but the most basic building maintenance, and make further cuts in services like counselors and nurses.
The SRC made the decision even though failing to adopt a budget before the end of May violates the city charter.
"Rather than adopting a 'Doomsday II' budget – and give anyone the impression that the cuts it contains are feasible or acceptable – we are going to not act on the budget tonight," announced SRC Chairman Bill Green. "Instead, we will continue to focus our energy and attention on securing the needed funding for our schools."
Accounts of the collapse of a 7-year-old boy at Jackson Elementary School on Wednesday say that at least two first responders -- a library volunteer who was a retired nurse and an employee of a behavioral health organization trained in CPR -- were not regular staffers and just happened to be in the building.
That raises the question of whether Jackson had in place an emergency plan required by the state departments of Health and Education that identifies "specially trained" staff and specifies staff responsibilities.
"In true emergency situations, the school should do all in its power to render emergency care," say the guidelines. "To prepare for emergencies that can be reasonably anticipated in the student population, the school should have written first aid policies and emergency management practices in place. These policies and procedures should reflect staff responsibilities and district expectations for staff action in an emergency situation, including identifying specially trained and designated individuals who, in addition to the nurse, will render first aid."
City Council summoned School District leadership Wednesday to answer more questions on the needs of the schools and to argue over what the city can and should provide.
But after three hours of sharp verbal sparring, they seemed no closer to a breakthrough that could get the District enough money in time to avoid triggering hundreds of layoffs and planning for class sizes in September of 40 students or more.
At hearings this week, School District leaders, education advocacy groups, and others have been imploring Philadelphia's City Council to swallow hard and do what the state legislature authorized it to do: extend the 1 percent surcharge on the sales tax and devote the first $120 million to the city's schools.
District leaders have already budgeted the money, and each day that goes by without a guarantee of recurring dollars, they pointed out, increases the chances of another school year marked by instability and disinvestment.
Council President Darrell Clarke has given his answer: No.
As news of violence and disarray at Bartram High School dominated Philadelphia headlines, national education researchers were downtown at the Convention Center, discussing the theory and practice of a “portfolio” school reform strategy that relies on management changes – converting low-performing schools to charters or closing them.
And although many have tied Bartram’s troubles to the budget cuts that sharply reduced staff levels at the school, Philadelphia School Partnership head Mark Gleason does not agree.