Insider: 4 Things Jim Kenney Must Do To Fix Philly’s Schools

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

If you’re a parent in the School District of Philadelphia, you may have worried that officials would try to close your school. Or that your child wouldn’t have a nurse, would have to walk two miles just to get to school, or that their favorite teacher would strike.

But City Council has a different worry: Can your child read and write cursive?

At Council’s hearings on school funding this week, cursive — not Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to plug the district’s budget gap by raising property taxes  — dominated the debate.

My school has no air conditioning, one-fifth of a nurse, a rotating school-police officer, and the only technology upgrades are the ones we literally lug onto a truck ourselves. Writing this on a 90-degree day, my response to CursiveGate is entirely inappropriate for Citified and begins with a capital “F.” Whether that “F” contains the proper ascenders and descenders is at Council’s discretion.

Jim Kenney, the city’s presumptive next mayor, may have an easier time pushing his education agenda through Council than Nutter has.

School activist Helen Gym will likely sit in City Council next year. And in a mayoral election where education was the No. 1 issue, Kenney won a clear majority against five opponents, one of whom was funded by school-choice oligarchs. He has, dare I say, a mandate.

And yet, the mayor has little direct power over schools. But Kenney will be far from powerless. Here are four things he can do to support strong schools for every child:

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For the First Time, PSU “Facebook Frat” Whistleblower Speaks Out

Penn State students in March protest against Kappa Delta Rho.

Penn State students in March protest against Kappa Delta Rho.

For what appears to be the first time, the ex-member of Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho chapter who prompted a police investigation into the fraternity is speaking out publicly about his allegations.

James Vivenzio told the authorities in January that Kappa Delta Rho had operated two private Facebook pages where members posted photographs of nude, unconscious women, hazing and drug sales. Shortly thereafter, police filed an affidavit of probable cause detailing the alleged pages named “Covert Business Transactions” and “2.0.”

This week, Penn State announced that it is shutting down the local chapter for three years following its own investigation.

Vivenzio released a statement about the frat’s suspension through his lawyer, Aaron Freiwald, late Thursday: Read more »

Penn State Students to Tom Wolf: Help End “Epidemic” of Campus Sex Assault


They’ve called out the mighty Penn State administration. They’ve organized rallies in support of women who were allegedly pictured nude and unconscious on websites run by the school’s Kappa Delta Rho chapter. And now, they’re knocking on Gov. Tom Wolf‘s door.

Penn State senior Lauren Lewis and alumnus Josephine Rose met Friday with John Hanger, Wolf’s secretary of policy and planning, to urge the him “to do everything possible within his authority to ensure that campus sexual assault survivors are supported and protected.”

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Selfie Sex-Ed: Should High Schools Teach Sexting Risks?


According to a long-term study by researchers at the University of Texas, sexting may actually be a normal part of sexual development among teens.

As provocative as that sounds, I think it’s probably true. And — as exaggerated and semi-Puritan as this sounds — it’s also true that sexting can completely ruin a teenager’s life.

A girl who shares an intimate photo with her boyfriend can be charged with a summary offense in Pennsylvania. He can face charges for having the images, too.  Read more »

The Brief: Are the Mayoral Candidates’ School Plans “Bogus”?

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

1. Mayor Michael Nutter said the candidates running to replace him have proposed “bogus” school funding plans.

The gist: Nutter made the attack while touring a city school with Gov. Tom Wolf last week. He said, according to the Inquirer, “You cannot run around this school, shake hands with students, take pictures, read to second graders, talk to middle schoolers, inspire high school students, and then when you’re back at your office comfortably not put forward the money that they need to educate their students. Let’s cut the phoniness. Let’s be serious about educating kids.”

The six Democratic mayoral candidates oppose Nutter’s proposal to raise an extra $105 million for the city’s schools by increasing property taxes by 9 percent. They’ve offered other plans to boost funding, such as hiking the liquor-by-the-drink tax and selling tax liens.

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Darrell Clarke: Fund Philly Schools By Cracking Down on Tax Deadbeats

Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr

Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

A Philadelphia lawmaker has a plan to fund the city’s schools and crack down on tax deadbeats at the same time.

City Council President Darrell Clarke introduced a bill Thursday that would expand the local government’s ability to sell liens on commercial properties.

He says it could raise “millions of dollars” annually for Philadelphia’s schools. He did not provide a more specific figure.

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Jim Kenney’s Complicated History with School Vouchers

Photo Credit | Matt Rourke, AP

The Philadelphia teachers union announced last month that it is backing former City Councilman Jim Kenney in the mayor’s race.

“His years of consistent support for traditional public schools and educators, and his vision for a better Philadelphia for every child make him the clear choice,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Nearly 20 years ago, though, Kenney would likely have had a hard time wooing the PFT. In 1996, the young Democratic Councilman wanted to strike a deal with then-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge to obtain more funding for the city’s schools in exchange for something that is anathema to teachers unions: a voucher system, which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for tuition at private and parochial schools.

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Council to Nutter: Find Your $105 Million Somewhere Else

Philadelphia City Council  | Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr page

Philadelphia City Council | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr page

Close, but no cigar, Mayor Michael Nutter.

That was the general message from Council members at their hearing Tuesday on Nutter’s five-year fiscal plan, the first budget hearing of the season.

Lawmakers said they expect to provide additional money to the city’s cash-starved school district, but not in the way the mayor has suggested. In response to a request from school officials for an extra $103 million, Nutter has proposed raising property taxes by 9 percent in order to send slightly more than that, $105 million, to the district.

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10 Charts That Show Philly’s Outlook Is More Precarious Than Philadelphians Think

Philadelphians have a giant crush on Philly, according to poll results released last week by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Forty-eight percent of residents surveyed believe the city is moving in the right direction, the highest amount since Pew started asking the question six years ago.

But like any serious crush, Philadelphians’ view of the city is somewhat idealized.

Pew’s new “State of the City” report found Philly continues to face major, entrenched problems, ranging from a sky-high poverty rate to an underfunded government pension system. As the paper puts it, “The realities of the city—as embodied by the often unforgiving numbers—are complex and nuanced, with seemingly a negative for every positive and vice versa.”

Here are 10 graphs from the Pew report that show the city’s outlook is much more of a mixed bag than Philadelphians think:

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