A Fully-Funded and Accountable Public School System

A strong school system determines the future of our city. I’m a mom with three children in the public schools and a nationally recognized leader in the battle for public education. For more than 20 years, I’ve worked to improve our schools and our communities.

My record shows my commitment. I have spent my life as a teacher, parent and activist working to ensure that every child in Philadelphia can go to a safe, quality, nurturing school, and fighting to make sure that public education stays truly public. My efforts include:

  • co-founding Parents United for Public Education as a voice for parents citywide to lead a new vision for schools;
  • co-founding the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a nationally recognized newspaper that leads investigative research into major school issues;
  • winning the fight to prevent the privatization of the entire Philadelphia School District in 2001;
  • successfully pressuring the Philadelphia Parking Authority to pay the money it owed to our schools;
  • helping lead a successful civil rights battle and write the District’s first anti-harassment policy to ensure safe school climates for all children;
  • organizing parents and teachers at a neighborhood school to stop a charter conversion and re-invest in their public school.

I’m not going to wait for Harrisburg to solve all of our problems. As a parent, I will fight for our children today to get the schools they deserve. It will take a mother’s passion, an educator’s vision and an organizing sensibility to set this city straight and bring financial stability, educational equity, and racial justice for our children.

Here’s how we start:

UPDATE: Read Helen’s Plan for a Fair Share Approach to School Funding that will meet the District’s request for $100 million in local funding.

Achieving full funding requires contributions at all levels of government. Yes, we need a state funding formula that prioritizes equity and adequacy and we need improved funding at the federal level. At the same time, City Hall has its obligations to do more: 1) improve city funding of schools; 2) improve and strengthen accountability for those funds; and 3) build a broader public will around a culture of investment toward education in our city. This is achievable in the following ways:

  • Shift the proportion of property taxes from a 55 percent share to schools to a minimum of 60 percent. Property taxes are the bread and butter of school funding and captures growing wealth in the city. A five percent shift would deliver over $75 million for Philadelphia schools this year alone and would not result in additional tax burdens on homeowners. More importantly, as the city continues to grow and expand, improving the share of funding toward city schools provides a growing source of revenue for our schools.
  • Aggressively pursue delinquent property taxes. Set clear and transparent goals for this work that improves collections, provides appropriate safeguards to protect residents, and educates the public about achievable outcomes.
  • Support a strategic approach to real estate abatements, rather than a blanket policy that grants them everywhere.
  • Improve collection of the remainder of city taxes that support the schools.
    • Use & Occupancy: We need a more progressive approach to improving the U&O tax which is the second largest source of local School District revenue. I support legislation that would provide relief for small businesses and strengthen contributions from larger businesses, many of which received significant tax breaks under AVI (estimated revenue=$50 million+).
    • School Income: This tax is often overlooked and as a result, is effectively voluntary. I would conduct a comparative analysis and review of the tax and encourage a broad public campaign to improve collections.
    • Liquor by the Drink: This is another tax with a complicated collection history – but one I would review for fairness and effectiveness.
  • Encourage our non-profit giants to revive the City’s once thriving Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program or explore other ways that allow them to make contributions that address funding needs. (Total: $15-20 million)
  • Ensure that any new funds from the Philadelphia Parking Authority support the agency’s City/School District profit-sharing arrangement: Recently, the PPA has worked to shield significant new revenue – such as the sale of new taxicab medallions – from the District. City officials have been influential in the PPA’s operations and board oversight and must ensure that the PPA not only meets its profit-sharing obligations but works to expand and improve them.

Provide oversight and accountability for our schools. In the absence of an elected school board, City Council functions as a crucial public oversight body, with subpoena powers and the ability to host hearings across the city. One of the key responsibilities for City Council is exercising oversight for the School District’s budget. I have fought for and won open data and access to budget documents, and have supported efforts at participatory community-based budgeting. For years, I have provided an analysis of the School District’s complex budget document for parents and the public, including City Council. As your Councilwoman, I will ensure that Council holds the District accountable for prioritizing safety, improving programs, demanding charter accountability, ending high stakes testing and the school to prison pipeline, and guaranteeing essential services in all our neighborhood public schools.

Support “community schools” with coordinated, wrap-around services for our students. The future of public education relies on a vision that meets the needs of our communities and our young people. Community schools are full-service institutions that anchor neighborhoods and provide in-school and after school programming. As your City Councilwoman, I will focus on integrated approaches to City-District services that strengthen and improve coordinated outreach to vulnerable communities, including supporting expanded pre-K and HeadStart programming and better coordination with City social workers and services.I will put nurses and counselors back into schools, re-open school libraries, improve food access and nutrition, and support trauma-informed practices for young people.

Build a culture of investment around public education: If we are going to fix our schools, we need to re-build a culture of investment in public education.  We need to end a sickening approach of austerity and deprivation for Philadelphia’s children. I’m your champion in City Hall who will bring a message of investment to boardrooms and universities, and who has a proven record in galvanizing public attention and support for investing in public education for all.