At first forum of Philly mayoral candidates, education is hot topic

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 The first forum of this Democratic mayoral-primary season drew the candidates to Parkside in February. On Tuesday night, they'll go on live television from the Kimmel Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The first forum of this Democratic mayoral-primary season drew the candidates to Parkside in February. On Tuesday night, they'll go on live television from the Kimmel Center. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The six Democrats vying to be the next mayor of Philadelphia met Thursday morning for their first forum.

They were brought together by the Business Association of West Parkside to talk, well, business, but the conversation rarely strayed from education. 

The morning after an emotional School Reform Commission meeting where officials approved five new charter schools, the candidates at the business forum agreed on the importance of education.

“Schools, I think we can all agree that that’s No. 1,” said Doug Oliver. “Job creation, that’s No. 2.”

Nelson Diaz slammed the SRC’s decision. 

“You saw last night, despite the fact that we need to look at the foundation for funding the school system, they continually add more charter schools.”

In the audience were students from KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy, a charter high school, who seemed to bristle at Diaz’s comments. 

One of them stepped up to the mic to ask how the candidates would expand schools — including charters — that are successful and where students are thriving. A proposal for a second KIPP DuBois was among the five new charters approved by the SRC Wednesday and the only one approved to open in the fall. 

Diaz, and candidates Jim Kenney and Lynne Abraham, say charters are here to stay, but should not be expanded until the city has a better funding system for all public schools.

State Sen. Anthony Williams, who has received campaign contributions from pro-charter PACs, says they have become a scapegoat for the district’s funding problems.

“It’s not about the type of school, it’s about the outcome of that school,” he said. “I think rather than us arguing about what charters don’t do relative to financing … we should go about the business of finding the money to support all excellent schools.”

Milton Street, who is against charters, described his opponents’ plans for helping to boost high school graduation rates as “full of cow manure.”

“There’s two things you gotta do: No. 1, you have to stop the violence in the school,” he said. “No. 2, you gotta give the teachers the materials they need so that these children can be well prepared to graduate.”

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