Two leaders with a passionate interest in education released documents as their guiding stars for fully funding Philadelphia’s public schools.
The day after Gov. Tom Wolf presented his proposed budget, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite released his “Action Plan 3.0” Wednesday. The 50-plus page document spells out the superintendent’s plan for overlapping “networks” of schools with a focus on bringing more equity – and more revenue — into the school system.
Equity is important, said Hite, because a scarcity of district resources means not all students have access to a high quality education.
“It is highly dependent on where children live and whether or not they have the ability to gain access to one of our special admit programs,” said Hite.
The first category of Hite’s networks – administrative units for overseeing a particular school model – focuses on improving the neighborhood schools attended by more than half of the district students. There are eight neighborhood networks. The other networks include one for turnaround schools, one for schools serving students who have dropped out, and one for innovative schools.
In addition to funding distribution, the plan focuses on bringing in more revenue, period. It highlights a $5,478 per pupil adequacy gap in Philadelphia — or the difference between actual funding and the dollar figure assigned to an adequate education. Philadelphia’s adequacy gap is more than double that of other impoverished districts in the state.
In spite of this deficit, Hite’s Action Plan 3.0 builds on four earlier “anchor goals” — 100 percent graduation rate; 100 percent of 8-year-olds reading on grade level; 100 percent of schools with great principals and teachers; and 100 percent of the funding needed for “great schools.”
This year’s “READ! By 4th” campaign and hiring an additional 40 reading coaches in district schools, came out of the second anchor goal.
But Hite’s pointed out that he wants to move the discussion away from scarcity to a positive discussion about “investment” in schools. “At some point — hopefully right now — we have to get out of this cycle of getting just enough revenue to get by,” he said.
Increasing equity by redistributing funds
The plans of Wolf and Hite both call for changes to funding charters.
Hite wants to change the current funding formula because it “requires passing on funding to charter schools for services that they are not responsible for providing.”
He also proposes changes to charter funding for special education students following studies that show charters serve fewer special education students with extensive needs than the district, but draw a one-size-fits-all, per pupil amount for these students.
The plan cites a study by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, which found that of the $350 million given to charters statewide for special education students last year, “just $156 million was spent to serve those students.”
Wolf sees that disparity as an opportunity for cost-savings, and proposes to audit charters based on how much money they actually spend on instruction each year. That move has drawn fire from charter operators and proponents.
Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools and former spokesman for the state Department of Education, said in a statement Wolf’s budget would “severely limit a charter school’s ability to provide a high-quality education to its students, and potentially result in the closing of charter schools across the state.”
Wolf’s plan also proposes changes to cyber-charter funding, including a flat $5,950 per student amount for cyber-charters statewide. The state currently pays cyber-charters the same amount that their students’ home districts would pay a brick-and-mortar charter.
Both plans also call for a student-weighted funding formula, a policy which divvies up money among school districts based on actual enrollment. At the district level, it weights funding for individual students based on factors including poverty, academic performance and special education status.
Like the other action plans before it, 3.0 banks on “additional labor savings.”
The district is suing the Philadelphia teachers union over its challenge of the district’s ability to cancel the union contract and impose fees for health care on teachers.
Wolf’s plan would put more than $6 billion into basic education funding for the state – an increase of $400 million for basic education $110 million for special ed. Out of that total, about $159 million would go to Philadelphia schools, with $142 million for basic education and $17 million for special education.
Part of Philadelphia’s substantial hike in funding would come from reinstating a charter school reimbursement amount for “stranded costs,” or the amount above and beyond tuition that a district loses when a student leaves a district-run school for a charter school.
Changing cyber charter payments to a flat fee state-wide would also save the District about $24 million next year.
In the District’s five-year budget, Hite asks for $309 million in combined funding — including $206 million from the state — for the next school year. That request rises to $913 million by 2019.
If Wolf’s budget comes through in full, the state’s contribution of $183 million will still fall shy of that $206 million mark. The state has until June 30 to decide, but protracted budget talks could stretch into the fall.
Regardless of how much money comes from the state by the end of budget season, Hite said his plan will still guide district goals. “We’ve already started this,” said Hite.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that charter reimbursement was in addition to, not included in, the $159 million in proposed state funding for Philadelphia schools.