PA Urban Superintendents Joint Op-Ed
Proposed Title: A Call
to Action from Pennsylvania’s Urban School Superintendents
There is a lot of talk
in Harrisburg, from Republicans and Democrats, about growing Pennsylvania’s
economy. They agree on some approaches such as infrastructure investment and
workforce development, and diverge on others such as college affordability and
higher wages. The end game is largely the same -- bringing jobs and investments
to the Commonwealth and building wealth for Pennsylvania citizens.
Whether you’re a
Democrat or a Republican, one thing is clear: For Pennsylvania to prosper, its largest cities
superintendents from the Commonwealth’s largest urban areas, our 12 school
districts are responsible for educating one in every seven children in
Pennsylvania’s public schools. That means one of every seven future workers,
business owners and entrepreneurs who graduate from Pennsylvania’s public
schools is in one of our classrooms today.
The success of
Pennsylvania’s pro-growth strategy - and its future - will be determined by the
quality of education we provide, and the quality of education that Harrisburg
is willing to invest in.
Our school funding
system is badly in need of repair. The Commonwealth’s share of education
funding is just over a third, with local taxpayers providing the vast majority.
This has resulted in deep inequities in resources. How can Pennsylvania hope to
compete with states like New York or New Jersey, North Carolina or Washington,
California or Indiana when they invest in their future workforce at higher
rates than our Commonwealth?
school districts serve a diverse population of students, each with tremendous
potential and a wide range of educational needs to fully reach their potential.
We are doing our part to help meet their needs. We are working hard to improve
our schools and many are showing gains in achievement, college and career
readiness and graduation rates. City governments have raised taxes locally
again and again to help close the gap. But it’s not enough. We need more help
from the Commonwealth.
Our message is clear and
we are bringing it to Harrisburg: We have real and urgent needs that can
and should be funded this year. Help us build the Pennsylvania of the future.
The education funding
formula enacted in 2015 was a great first step, but in 2019 less than $1 of
every $10 in basic education funding runs through the formula. The Governor has
proposed $166 million in new formula funding. The General Assembly should see
that bet and raise it.
Children are learning
21st century skills like coding and robotics in buildings that were built
during the golden age of radio. Many contain immediate hazards that must be
addressed to protect basic health and safety.
Lawmakers established a
commission to thoroughly review Pennsylvania’s school construction program,
PLANCON. With that roadmap in place, the General Assembly should restore
funding to the program to support school renovations, repairs and new
Lawmakers should act to
ensure all of Pennsylvania’s children are learning in healthy environments by providing
a dedicated source of funding to address issues of lead, mold and asbestos in
It’s also time to stop
kicking the can down the road on charter funding reform. Pennsylvania’s charter
law needs an overhaul, including setting the bar higher for charter operators.
It’s not about district schools versus charter schools. It’s about high-quality
schools, period. The Commonwealth’s charter funding model needs to reflect
One example is the
chronic underperformance of cyber charter schools, which are costly to
taxpayers and fail to deliver for students. Thirteen of the Commonwealth’s 14
cyber charter schools are on the list of the lowest performing schools in
Pennsylvania. School district-operated cyber charters perform better and operate
at a fraction of the cost.
Another example is the
special education funding model for charters which does not differentiate based
on the needs of the students served. Even more alarming is the fact that it
does not require that those funds be used for their intended purpose. Something
is fundamentally wrong when monies designated to support some of our
highest-need students can be diverted without accountability. The General
Assembly should right this wrong when the special education formula is updated
were the hubs of technology and innovation 150 years ago and can help the
Commonwealth lead the nation once again. High-quality urban schools are the
path to Pennsylvania’s future. We are ready and willing to work with the
General Assembly to make this possible.
This op-ed was
co-authored by 12 of Pennsylvania’s large, urban school superintendents:
Dr. William R. Hite, The School District of Philadelphia; Thomas Parker,
Allentown School District; Dr. Samuel Lee, Bensalem Township School
District; Dr. Joseph Roy, Bethlehem Area School District; Dr. Juan R. Baughn, Chester Upland School District; Amy
Arcurio, Greater Johnstown School District; Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney,
Harrisburg School District; Dr. Damaris Rau, School District of Lancaster;
Dr. Anthony Hamlet, Pittsburgh Public Schools; Stephen Rodriguez, Pottstown School District; Dr. Khalid Mumin,
Reading School District; and Dr. Eric Holmes, School District of the City