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The perpetual funding crisis for Philly public schools

One candidate is prepared for attacks on his record while teacher union chief calls funding "No. 1" issue in race.

Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams
Sen. Anthony Hardy WilliamsRead moreStephanie Aaronson / Staff Photographer

THE PHILADELPHIA School District is caught in a funding-crisis cycle - and that is likely to be a factor in the 2015 race for mayor.

Nobody has more to gain or lose from that than state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, an expected candidate in the Democratic primary election and proponent of alternative options for students in failing schools.

Consider the fuss this week from education activists about pending state Senate legislation that would impact the management of charter and "cyber" schools.

Nothing happened with the legislation - Williams is the only Democratic co-sponsor - which is not expected to be acted on until next year.

But a flurry of emails was sent by activists, some who detest the legislation because it allows universities to create charter schools without approval from the local school district and others who are upset because it would limit how cyber schools receive and bank state money.

A coalition of community activists in Philadelphia planned a protest outside Williams' West Philly district office today but called that off after a meeting was set to discuss their concerns.

Instead, the group will rally Monday morning in front of Gov. Corbett's Philadelphia office.

Education is shaping up as a 2015 race issue with two sides.

On one, there is a coalition of progressive groups and unions that oppose many of the changes that have been made or are being planned by the School Reform Commission. On the other, there are city residents fed up with underperforming schools.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, predicts that public-school funding will be "the No. 1" issue in the 2015 race for mayor, right up there with concerns about job creation in the city.

A Pew Charitable Trusts poll in September found that 52 percent of city residents rate the local public school system as poorly performing, a five-year low.

Williams, who ran for governor in 2010 on a pro-school-voucher platform, seems plenty prepared for the political shots he will take for his views on education.

"I'm more than comfortable with special interests trying to carve out space, trying to define me in a limited way regarding my views on education," Williams said. "Anyone who plays that hand, regardless of whether I'm involved or not, is going to lose."

Speaking of schools . . .

Williams told us City Councilman Bill Green recently asked for and received his support in a bid to be the next chairman of the School Reform Commission.

We told you two weeks ago that Green has been asking Republicans in Philadelphia and across the state to urge Corbett to select him for the SRC post.

Williams and Green, once expected to be adversaries in the 2015 Democratic primary for mayor, didn't always get along.

"He doesn't necessarily kowtow to the politically expedient," Williams now says of Green. "I respect him for that."

Green declined to comment on his SRC bid but said this about Williams: "With respect to viewing the [public school] system as a whole, I would say we probably share similar philosophies. That doesn't necessarily mean using the same tactics."

That's quite a potential tag team there: Williams could fend off 2015 mayor's race attacks on his education policy with the help of the next SRC chairman.

Another Fattah on TV

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah will soon be hosting his own talk show on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

"A Capitol Idea with Chaka Fattah" will air about twice a month starting Jan. 19, Fattah spokeswoman Debra Anderson said.

In the first half of the 30-minute shows, the Philadelphia Democrat will interview newsmakers on specific topics. In a pilot episode already filmed, he interviews U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, about manufacturing.

In the second half, the congressman will talk to citizens who are impacted by the issue being discussed.

The topics, Anderson said, all will pertain to one of Fattah's five legislative priorities: neuroscience, manufacturing, co-operatives, youth mentoring and the Gear Up education program.

If he needs some TV tips, he can always turn to his wife, NBC10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah.

While "A Capitol Idea" is pleasant enough, we at Clout believe the talk show's name is a missed opportunity for some horrendous puns, such as "Now we're Fattalkin," "Chakatalka" and "The Chakatalk Nation."

- Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this report