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City Council Testimony on School Closings

 

Testimony to the Education Committee of City Council 
Submitted to the Office of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell 
Darren Spielman, President/CEO, Philadelphia Education Fund 
February 12, 2013 

 

Thank you Councilwoman Blackwell for convening this hearing and for the opportunity to testify today. Thank you Council for your commitment to the education of all Philadelphia’s children. 

My name is Darren Spielman and I am President and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Education Fund. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and I came into consciousness believing that the challenges of children in our city were mine, and mine to do something about. I have spent my career addressing those challenges. 

At the Ed Fund, we have been champions for public education since 1985. We believe that opportunity is for all young people, not only the fortunate few. We support more than 15,000 students and 600 teachers in 30 schools across our city. We grant one million dollars per year in last-dollar scholarships to send neighborhood high school students to college. And we have transformed Philadelphia’s approach to drop-out prevention. 

Today, I am here to testify about the proposed closing of district schools. We approach this moment as an organization -- and I approach it as an individual -- with a deep connection, respect, and caring for the communities, families, institutions, and educators involved. This is an extremely difficult emotional issue. An issue that presents real challenges for all involved. Institutions with long proud histories of serving communities, and our city, are slated to go away. 

We confront a pivotal moment in the history of public education in Philadelphia. The district faces extraordinary financial distress. The city hosts a system of public schools that, despite the hard work of countless educators, has failed the majority of our students for decades. We need transformational change, and at the same time we need to balance the budget. 

We have come to the very difficult conclusion at the Ed Fund that we cannot get there by investing indefinitely in those buildings that are both near-empty and not serving our students well. Imagine a school designed for more than 1000, hosting less than 200, where only 66 students can read. Imagine a school designed for more than 1700, with less than 450 students, where only 100 can read. These are some of the numbers behind the more than 50,000 empty spaces in our district. 

To be clear, closing schools by itself is not a solution; it is one necessary step to get where we need to go. As we make these decisions, we need to consider the well-being of every young person. Where we can transfer students to schools of superior or, at a minimum, equal academic quality and safety -- and where we can implement clear plans to support the transition – we should close schools and move ahead. We will need to plan for and deliver safe commutes, and safety in buildings. We will need to ensure that special resources and supports follow students from closing to receiving schools. We will need intentional integration of student populations. We will need to prepare faculty and administrators. And we will need to know what investments will be made to strengthen the receiving schools. To move ahead, we need to come together as a community, district and City Council, to focus resources and energy on our receiving schools, to help them stabilize and thrive. And clear plans to do so. 

We also need to honor the many families, community members and advocates who have lent their analysis and voice to this process. Their input will undoubtedly improve the final facilities plan. Their engagement is necessary for all of us to succeed. The better our schools engage families and community, and the better families and community can engage schools, the more successful our schools can be. Families will need to continue to have access to clear information about the decisions being made and about how receiving schools will connect with them and their children. We need an open and respectful process where families, district, schools, and organizations across the city grapple with the hard facts, but also combine their energies and hope to plan for students’ successful transitions to their new schools. The Ed Fund has worked hand in hand for years with many of the groups that are organizing families and youth to advocate for our schools. We remain committed to this process and to further engaging families through the changes that are to come. 

And at the Ed Fund, in partnership with the many dedicated organizations and individuals in our great city, we will continue to work hard to arrive at the day when all our children have access to the education they deserve. 

I thank you for your support and your commitment to this cause.

 

Ed Fund and Partners Voice Support for School Funding

On March 11, the Philadelphia Education Fund and 12 partner organizations issued a statement in support of school funding. In the statement, we urge state officials to maintain strong funding to school districts. There is no better investment in our city, our region, and our state. 

> Read the statement here

Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign lauds Rendell

The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign (PSFC), a statewide coalition that advocates for adequate and equitable funding of Pennsylvania’s schools, recently praised Governor Edward Rendell and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for agreeing to a state budget that places additional emphasis on improving education. The 2009-10 Pennsylvania State budget includes a $300 million increase in the basic education subsidy for school districts.