6. Last Rites for Truly Public Schools?
It’s difficult to overstate just how completely Philadelphia’s power crowd has changed its thinking on public education this year. Mayor Nutter won office in 2007 partly on the strength of a campaign ad featuring his charming daughter boasting that “my dad is the only Democrat for mayor with a child in the public schools.” As recently as 2011, Nutter opposed vouchers.
But by this summer—just a few months after the school district announced a radical reorganization plan heavy on public-school closings and charter-school growth—Nutter was publicly dismissing the controversy over private, public and charter education as “esoteric debates that ultimately don’t mean anything to these young people.” Apparently three years of Arlene Ackerman is enough to shake even the most stalwart Democrat’s faith in the value of a classic public education.
And Nutter is hardly alone. His view is increasingly backed by the city’s liberal elites, including large numbers of young white professionals who would very much like to stay in Philadelphia but don’t dare enroll their children at the neighborhood public school. Two of the leading 2015 mayoral contenders—at-large City Councilman Bill Green and State Senator Anthony Williams—are also big backers of school choice.
If either wins, Philadelphia could pretty quickly look like New Orleans—a city where 70 percent of schoolkids attend charter schools. “This is a national trend, and they’re all getting on board with it,” says schools activist Helen Gym. If it sticks, look for the neighborhood public school to fade away as a meaningful Philadelphia institution.