In her first bill before City Council, freshman Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson proposes legislation that would give preference — in the form of five extra points on the civil service exam — to any qualified graduate of one of the Philadelphia School District’s more than 120 Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The bill asks to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter and, if it passes in Council, would trigger a ballot question in April. Currently, a similar benefit is given to veterans and children and grandchildren of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Richardson says she’s trying to give grads of vocational and technical schools a leg up in a tough job market, but critics argue that the bill is insensitive to veterans, police officers, and firefighters.

The Inquirer turned to City Council at-large members Richardson and David Oh to debate: Should the city give “extra credit” to grads of vocational and technical schools who apply for government jobs?

Yes: This legislation seeks to solve a problem.

By Katherine Gilmore Richardson

As a former teacher and mother of school-aged children, I can tell you that educating our youth so they can achieve bright and successful futures is one of the most important duties we, as legislators, have. Education is a right for all of our children, and even though we are nearly 70 years past Brown v. Board of Education, we recognize our system is still deeply, inherently, and systematically unequal.

However, as an educator, I recognize that not every child is the same and may not take the same traditional path to a four-year university that I did. Developing our workforce by utilizing the career and technical workforce programs here in Philadelphia is so important to me. The students in these programs are gaining real-life work experience suitable to fill Philadelphia city jobs, of which many are lacking applicants. In fact, according to a recent Pew report, 75% of our city workforce is eligible for retirement in 15 years.

That’s why I proposed a measure that would extend a points preference to graduates of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in the School District of Philadelphia taking competitive civil service exams for city jobs.

After working in City Hall for 11 years, I have seen many pieces of noble legislation lose their steam and get mired down in information perpetuated by one or two people or groups who would rather see nothing happen than to work together to find a compromise. I know that legislation where many groups have stakes rarely winds up looking exactly as it started. I understand that some veterans groups are concerned about the legislation, and worry that it might negatively impact their members.

As the daughter of an Army veteran, I would not support any legislation that would unfairly disenfranchise veterans and children of fallen firefighters and police. I have a three-time combat war Army veteran and grandchildren of Philadelphia police on my staff.

What this legislation seeks to do is to solve a problem — not take anything away from anyone else — but to expand opportunities to students that Philadelphia taxpayers have invested in, in our Career and Technical Education programs, and attempt to keep that investment here. These students would receive a preference on civil service exams and hopefully be able to fill existing vacancies for our city workforce. They would then be working here, living here, paying taxes, funding our schools, and the city would be getting a solid return on investment.

Pipelines of disinformation can be difficult to slow once they get started, and I am sorry one of my first efforts in City Council fell victim to this, but I want to layout the truth about this bill and look forward to it moving forward to hopefully help more of our students on their career paths.

Katherine Gilmore Richardson is a councilmember at-large. She is a lifelong Philadelphian, a wife, a mother, a former teacher, and a longtime public servant.

No: Exceptions to a level playing field must be rare and for good reason.

By David Oh

A five-point advantage for graduates of Philadelphia career technical schools is a five-point disadvantage for everyone else. Currently, Philadelphians who want to work for the city must pass a civil service exam. This is done to level the playing and allow qualified people, regardless of demographics, to gain employment. Giving preferential treatment to job applicants would be making an exception to the rules.

Exceptions to a level playing field must be rare, extraordinary, and for good reason. Currently, the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter provides a 10-point hiring preference for military veterans and children/grandchildren of police officers and firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. That’s the way it should stay.

The idea that CTE grads would receive preferential treatment for employment would disadvantage many Philadelphians — including graduates of a traditional high school, magnet school, creative and performing arts school, two-year or four-year college, persons with physical or intellectual disabilities, single parents, GED recipients, returning citizens, and victims of crime.

Graduates of Philadelphia Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are very employable in their fields of training. CTE students graduate with in-demand skills, and hold higher rates of employment than high school graduates without career and technical certifications. And Philadelphia residents who graduate from CTE programs outside the School District of Philadelphia would be excluded under this legislation. It’s also worth noting that amendments to the charter cannot be amended or repealed for five years. I believe there are other ways to assist graduates of Philadelphia career and technical schools without a charter change, such as a tax credit or another incentive passed through traditional legislation.

Veterans have served our nation. They put themselves in harm’s way and placed their families at risk of losing a parent. They underwent strict discipline and training. They followed orders and went where they are sent by our government. Our city government appreciates their service, sacrifice, training, and experience to the extent it prefers to hire veterans. It is a merit-based preference. Yet only 1.8% of city government’s workforce are veterans. This is well below the national average for veteran’s employment.

Children and grandchildren of fallen police officers and firefighters are not a group of job applicants who chose to be in this category. They grew up without a parent or grandparent because our city needs people who put their lives at risk for all of us. This group of job applicants understands in a deeply personal way, the highest manner of public service and sacrifice.

I have no doubt that this bill was introduced with good intentions. However, it does, in fact, diminish the hiring preference for veterans and children/grandchildren of fallen police officers and firefighters. It also unwittingly creates a need for every other group of job applicants to lobby their councilmembers to create a five-point hiring preference for them to have their own advantage.

Amending the charter to add an additional hiring preference distorts the original intent and spirit of the benefit given to veterans, and arbitrarily gives one group a distinct advantage. That’s not fair and it shouldn’t happen.

David Oh is an at-large member of Philadelphia City Council and the only veteran currently serving on Council.

Read more Inquirer Pro/Cons: