Philadelphia moves to retake control of city school system

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at City Hall in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.  (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at City Hall in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

The mayor of Philadelphia on Thursday took steps to take control of the city’s struggling public school system after 16 years of state oversight.

Mayor Jim Kenney said that it is time for the city to be accountable for the education of its 200,000 schoolchildren.

“If we don’t take responsibility for the fate of our schools, then we will continue to relegate generations of Philadelphia’s families to poverty,” he said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat, supports local control. So the commission that now governs the nation’s eighth-largest school system is expected to be dissolved by the end of the school year and be replaced by a mayor-appointed school board.

Philadelphia schools face a $100 million deficit in the next fiscal year and project a $1 billion deficit by fiscal year 2022.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

More than a third of the district’s students have been siphoned off by charter schools, which get public funds, as the district has had to shutter more than 24 schools and lay off nearly 4,000 employees.

Kenney wants the city to cover the budget deficit as well as some capital improvements, including remodeling of classrooms and libraries, though he didn’t say where the money would come from.

“There will be no easy solutions for funding these resources,” he said. “The district has nothing left to cut.”

“So, the final plan we will propose to meet the district’s needs will be difficult, and it will require everyone to pitch in — but the alternative is far worse,” the mayor said.

The state seized control of the school district in 2001 as it struggled with a huge deficit, low test scores, chronic teacher shortages, and crumbling buildings. At the time, it was the largest district in the country to be taken over by a state government.

The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said in a statement that Kenney has taken “a huge step toward ending what has been a long, failed experiment in state control of public schools.”

Kenney said mayoral control has benefited school districts in New York, Boston, and Washington.

“If we don’t create quality schools, then the brief renaissance our city is experiencing will evaporate when families choose to move in search of a better education for their children,” he said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

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

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal