By Anthony Hardy Williams
It's budget season in Pennsylvania, and once again our schools need more money.
I am once again prepared to lead that fight in Harrisburg, but for the first time in recent memory, this budget battle is bigger than just money.
All over Pennsylvania, people are realizing that money alone cannot fix the problems of public education. Schools need to be accountable to the children and families they serve, and it's time we accepted this fact, too. It is a major part of the Philadelphia mayoral campaign, it has been the dominant theme in recent research on public education, and last month, City Council even conditioned an award of additional local tax dollars on a measurable set of school performance factors.
Accountability is a must, especially when it comes to those 90,000 students who are stuck in Pennsylvania's worst-performing public schools. Ninety percent of these children are economically disadvantaged, almost all of them are minorities, and the great majority live in Philadelphia.
And the evidence is clear that we have failed them for years by not insisting that these schools be accountable for their students' academic performance.
There are and will be a number of legislative options to improve accountability in public education, including Senate Bill 6, the Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act, which focuses solely on failing schools and provides a range of new tools that have proven effective in turning these schools around.
I support S.B. 6. It is not a perfect bill, but it is a major step forward in the effort to demand that increased state funding for public education be accompanied by new standards of accountability.
A high-quality education for all children is a civil right, no less important than the right to vote, the right to eat at a public lunch counter, or any of the rights that leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died for in the 1960s.
In one of his most famous speeches, following the march from Montgomery to Selma, Ala., King famously asked, "How long?" before the goals of the civil rights movement would be achieved. "How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Today, unfortunately, the sad truth is that if Dr. King could witness the plight of public education, the refrain would be: "How long? Too long."
In schools all across Pennsylvania, it is long past time to serve the children and families in poverty - students we have failed for decades by not insisting on greater accountability and increased funding.
We need solutions that are evidence-based, programs that are proven to work for children. And among the adults who are engaged in this debate, we need full disclosure, too. It is no secret that I have long advocated for reform of our public education system. And I will continue to demand that we fund and support good schools for our children, regardless of whether they are traditional public schools or charter schools.
People know where I stand on this issue, and they have the right to know where other leaders stand, too - whether, for example, their ideas are being driven by the interests of children or by special interests who may have a different agenda.
In other words, let's have an open and honest debate that drives fundamental change in our schools. The families we serve want public schools that are fully funded and fully accountable.
And they're very clear about how much more they will tolerate failure.
How long? Not long.