KYW Regional Affairs Council


“Harrisburg’s FAILING Grade in Philadelphia”


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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been ten years since the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took control of the Philadelphia school system, and the arrangement is getting poor grades, even from those who initially supported the state takeover.

Now, local officials and education advocates are calling for the state to return the school district to city control.

(Pa. state Sen. LeAnna Washington. Photo provided)

“Who does the SRC (School Reform Commission) report to or respond to, or who do they think they have to talk about what they do?” wonders Pennsylvania state senator LeAnna Washington (D-Phila., right), promoting a bill that would allow Philadelphians to elect their own school board — something every other school district in the state does.

Philadelphia ended up with a state-controlled School Reform Commission when the city asked for state financial help during a budget crisis, in 2001.  The formation of the SRC ensured that the state would have a say in its greater investment in city schools.

And, as education advocate Helen Gym recalls, it allowed then-governor Mark Schweiker to experiment with privatizing public schools, turning some of them over the “EMOs” — education management organizations.

(Education activist Helen Gym, standing outside a charter school in Chinatown. Credit: Pat Loeb)

“Those all failed,” Gym (right) tells KYW Newsradio.  “It’s not like they did a so-so job.  They failed miserably.”

Gym says the other promises of a state takeover have come to a similar end.  The schools once again are in a financial crisis (see related story), and they’re in a leadership crisis as well, after a messy and expensive episode in which Arlene Ackerman was removed as superintendent (related story) and the SRC chairman resigned, followed shortly by two other members (related story).

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Currently the five-seat board has three members, one of whom lives not in Philadelphia or even Pennsylvania, but in California — prompting Sen. Washington’s call for a local school board.

But Gov. Tom Corbett says he wants to keep the commission, though he concedes, nearly a year into his term, that he doesn’t know much about it.

“I do not have a member on the SRC,” Corbett told reporters.  “I don’t have satisfactory information of what the SRC has been doing until my members are confirmed and they can get that information for me.”

Corbett’s nominees are awaiting confirmation by the state senate.

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060

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