Imagine walking many miles in Philly schools chief’s shoes

Listen

Imagine that one day someone offers you a job.

Here’s the deal: You must carry some papers from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Get to L.A., and your reward will be $3,000. OK! But there’s a catch: You have to walk.

You need the dough, so you agree to the deal and set out. You walk and walk, hard marches.

One day, the boss calls to say: “What, you’re only in Ohio? What’s wrong with you?”

“Walking’s hard. If you sent money for a bus ticket, I could get there faster.”

“Boy, you are a whiner. Tiger Woods manages to get to L.A. in one day.”

“Tiger Woods owns his own plane. He doesn’t have to walk.”

“That’s immaterial. Problem is, you’re carrying too much weight; drop stuff from your backpack. If you need money, stop along the way to do some odd jobs for cash.”

You’re trying to please the man.  So you strip down to essentials; you pause to mow lawns, pick berries.In this way, you make it to Iowa. You’re lean, fit, doing 40 miles a day.

That’s when the Commonwealth Foundation puts out a report saying you’re a greedy, incompetent slob. You need either to “reform” or be left in Des Moines to rot.

OK, so now you know what it’s like to be Bill Hite, who runs the Philadelphia school system.

The Philly schools are far from perfect. But no matter their flaws, they don’t deserve the illogical rhetoric being spewed from Harrisburg as the latest school fiscal crisis plays out.

A recent policy brief from the libertarian Commonwealth Foundation captures almost every canard of this debate in slick, multicolor charts. Let’s list a few: The Philly schools spend too much. They already get more than their fair share of state money. Their test scores show that money doesn’t matter.

The truth, point by point: If Philly spends too much, then the real scandal is Montgomery County, where school systems spend roughly 25 percent more per student, on kids who have fewer needs. Philly gets more state aid than, say, Lower Merion because that’s how the state Constitution says to divvy up the money, as a matter of equity. And if money doesn’t matter, why do the districts that spend the most have the best scores?

Much of the rhetoric out of Harrisburg this summer about the Philly schools has been deficient in basic arithmetic and rudimentary logic.

I particularly love the frequently heard argument that House members don’t want to vote to OK the Philly cigarette tax because, “Why should we do something for Philly and not our own schools?”  All you’re doing is giving the city permissions to tax its own residents at no cost to any taxpayer elsewhere in the state.

People whose contribution to the debate operates at that level of cognition should be disqualified from offering an opinion until they undergo some remedial education themselves.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.