Did everyone forget about disbanding the SRC?
In his short-lived time in the mayoral race, Ken Trujillo wore the label for most radical education reformer. Four months ago, he was the first of the mayoral candidates to join the battle to disband the School Reform Commission and return local control to Philadelphia schools. Pennsylvania Working Families gathered 40,000 signatures in petition to City Council that "the state's takeover of our schools through the School Reform Commission has weakened the voices of parents and community.” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell sponsored the bill, and even though at the end of the day it was ruled that City Council did not have the authority to abolish the SRC, their anger sent a symbolic gesture to Harrisburg.
During his gubernatorial campaign, even Governor Wolf was vocal about the disbandment.
"I think local control is better. My proposal is for an elected school board because that's what every other school district in Pennsylvania has,” he told WHYY Newsworks last October at the end of his campaign, and also at the height of Philly’s down-with-the-SRC chanting.
While rallying anti-SRC support may have helped Wolf gain favor with some Philly voters, a lot has changed in four months. It’s the mayor’s race now. And the candidates aren’t looking at two different cities: one with and one without the SRC.
The spotlight has shifted away from abolishing the SRC onto halting its approval of new charter schools. Four of the five candidates — except for Anthony Williams who has strong ties to the charters — have signed a petition to express their disapproval of new charters, which will be heard at the SRC hearing Wednesday morning.
One has come out in favor of partial reform. Doug Oliver issued a plan that would redistribute the SRC’s power not to restore, but to better reflect local control. Currently, three of the SRC’s five board members are chosen by the governor, and two by the mayor. Oliver proposes to flip the equation years down the road when the current cabinet’s term is up.
Others have taken a here-nor-there stance. From a fiscal perspective, Jim Kenney has said that we shouldn’t wait on Harrisburg, and that regardless of whether or not the SRC exists, he’ll focus on funding Philly education without from within the city’s budget.
But the SRC still has a committed foe in Judge Nelson Diaz. Since Trujillo, he’s the only candidate to come out in full support of abolishing the SRC.
He told AL DÍA that he had spoken with Governor Wolf and they had discussed a preliminary idea of new commission comprised of Wolf, the next mayor of Philadelphia, PFT President Jerry Jordan, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and an appointed board of parents.
Wolf has obstacles if he wants to fight the SRC now. The state has controlled Philly schools since 2002. And Wolf, a Democrat, faces a Republican-controlled legislature in which he’s already made a few enemies. Another option is to convince the five SRC members to step down, or wait for all of their terms to end three to four years from now and then decide what to do.
But there’s a chance, according to PA Representative Angel Cruz, that Harrisburg is ready to hand the control back to Philly.
Cruz has long been fighting to let Philadelphia handle its school funding problems, citing the lack of financial accountability and the misallocation of the state’s tax money for non-educational issues.
“It’s hard for us Philadelphia legislators up there [in Harrisburg] because we get bashed for all the mistakes that Philadelphia wants to commit. So here’s a solution. Here’s a Philadelphian that says Philadelphia can clean up its own mess,” he said.
His proposed legislation would offer the referendum for voters to decide if they want the SRC or an elected school board. The second piece of the legislation would fully return the school district back into Philadelphia’s hands. Cruz said he’s 80-90 percent confident the legislation will pass — “maybe within a month or two.”
There’s no proof that will happen, of course. But it’s possible. And in their platforms on school reform, the candidates haven’t addressed what an SRC-less version of the city might look like, nor the specifics of how they would operate solely on local control.