Education: Who calls the shots, from Philly to D.C.

A no-frills explainer on schools in Philadelphia.

Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School

Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn
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Though perhaps not as sexy as other political topics, our education system is vastly important to just about everyone in Pennsylvania. It directly affects parents, children and their teachers — but also has great impact on society in general, since the kids of today are tomorrow’s leaders.

The biggest debates

  1. Funding methodology. Always a topic of conversation among public officials: How do we generate more money for our public education system? Traditionally, schools are funded through local property taxes — but that method has failed some districts. That’s why in recent years, legislators have started trying some more creative ideas.
  2. School choice. Some parents across the country have grown unsatisfied with their local public schools, and opt instead to send their kids to private, charter or magnet schools — in some cases using vouchers provided by their school district. Critics call this system unfair, since it takes away some money that would otherwise go toward public schools.
  3. Security. In light of mass shootings at public schools and other institutions in recent years, an argument has surfaced about whether arming teachers with guns would help prevent future massacres. Supporters say it could save lives, while critics say putting guns is school would be costly and unsafe.

How national policy can address education

When it comes to public education, most of the day-to-day power lies with state and local government. But national officials can still make an impact.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump have the power to propose new legislation and make changes to appropriations. Their ideas are more likely to be passed with support from Congress. Both officials have expressed their support for school choice and for arming teachers.

How state policy can address education

When it comes to Philly schools, the state has the power to control some big-picture stuff like funding and standardized testing.

But it’s important to note: the state currently has less control over Philadelphia’s education system than it has in a long time. For years, Philly schools were run by the state-appointed School Reform Commission, which ceased to exist in July.

How city policy can address education

How much control does Philly have over its own schools? Short answer: much more than it did six months ago.

In July, control of the Philadelphia public schools was officially handed over from the state-controlled School Reform Commission to the School District of Philadelphia. This means city-appointed folks will make decisions on curriculum, hiring practices and other day-to-day operations. Also, it means students have more direct say than they’ve had in about a decade.

Further reading

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