By Pedro A. Ramos
With a $304 million budget gap, the School District of Philadelphia faces a financial crisis. Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission have requested a combination of new revenues and savings. But these requests are about more than closing a deficit. They are about giving every child in Philadelphia the chance to be ready for college or work. We want to build on promising and difficult steps already taken, so that new funding truly becomes an investment to make every school a great place for learning.
There is good news at the core of all of this. Since 2002, Philadelphia has increased its four-year graduation rate by 20 percentage points, and decreased the number of persistently dangerous schools from 28 to 6. These changes are the product of improved practices in district schools and good results at a number of charter schools.
But still we face challenges, including the absence of a reliable student-based funding stream; our inability to respond quickly and manage resources efficiently following enrollment shifts; and the lack of focus and consistency in training and supporting our educators. But even with these problems, we have made schools better. We seek increased funding to accelerate progress. And progress only comes through shared effort, which is why we're asking for:
$60 million in new funding from the city. Added to $40 million in new city funding last year, this amounts to roughly a 10 percent increase.
$120 million in new state funding - also a 10 percent increase - and a commitment to establish a fair, need-based student funding formula.
Pay concessions and sensible changes to teacher and principal contracts, similar to what was negotiated last year with support workers. We seek a balanced package of 10 percent savings and reforms to make it easier to shift and deploy resources based on student needs. The reforms would eliminate spending on things that don't correlate to student achievement or teacher performance.
We want to position the district to build on its successes, improve efficiency, and innovate. Under the Renaissance program, we have launched district- and charter-run turnarounds at more than 30 schools in recent years, gaining dramatically better outcomes in many cases. We have made the painful decisions to close more than 30 under-enrolled schools. We have launched new high-school models and expanded those that work, developed plans for a virtual learning academy, and implemented a model for helping struggling students sooner. The district is working more and more with charter and diocesan schools, and sharing best practices to ensure that student needs and priorities drive decision-making.
Apple saw change coming and transformed itself into one of the world's most successful companies. That's the kind of transformation the district needs.
So, yes, we need more resources, but more city or state funding alone isn't the answer. We need a multifaceted package of reforms and revenue increases to put all of our public schools on a successful, sustainable path.