The Brief: No Peace for the SRC

Plus, Council gets aggressive and Seth Williams suggests Gov. Wolf is a despot. Really.

Green Williams Clarke

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved five out of 39 applications for new charter schools yesterday night at the tail end of a meeting that featured four arrests and lasted five hours. The decision appeared to please no one. One prominent national ed reformer called on SRC Chairman Bill Green to resign, for not approving enough charter applicants. Pretty much simultaneously, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten condemned the decision to approve any new charter schools. Gov. Wolf issued a statement saying his administration “continues to believe that the district’s financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools.” We haven’t heard yet from Republicans in the General Assembly, but you can bet they would like to have seen more new charters than the five the SRC authorized.

A few days ago, Citified called this the SRC’s decision impossible. It looks like the SRC tried to walk a very thin line, approving a relatively small number of applications from the very best charter operators (and even those come with some significant restrictions), in the hopes it would a) appease GOP legislators with the power to choke off or increase funding for city schools b) not piss off the new governor too much c) not blow too big a hole in the district’s budget, thus screwing over kids in district schools and d) actually expand access to the quality education that top-flight charter operators like KIPP and Mastery have proven they can provide.

The whole thing reeks of compromise. No wonder so few seem happy about the decision.

What are the political implications? So long as schools, the charter question and ed reform dominate the headlines, mayoral candidate Anthony Williams, the state’s leading Democratic ed reform advocate, stands alone and vulnerable to attack from his foes. It’s easy to see that as a liability, but don’t assume the protests at SRC meetings are a reliable stand-in for public opinion on the charter question. We have yet to see a contemporary public poll that gets at Philadelphians’ feelings about charters and ed reform in an intelligent way. Until we do, it’s hard to know how the schools debate is impacting the mayoral race.

Don’t Miss…

  • District Attorney Seth Williams just declared war on Tom Wolf over the governor’s new death penalty moratorium. Pissing off the sitting attorney general and governor when they’re of the same party is a bold strategy. Let’s see how that works out for Williams. Also, how should one reconcile Williams’ death penalty fan club stance of today with these remarks to Michael Smerconish in 2007? “Reasonable people may disagree on the morality, unjust administration and/or deterrent value of capital punishment. I think we should strive for a society without the death penalty.” Now, though, Williams not-so-subtly suggests that Wolf is a despot for instituting a moratorium on a death penalty that hasn’t been used in this state in 16 years. Yeah. Ok.
  • City Council’s manifest destiny is to lock the mayor into a little box where he or she can’t go to the bathroom without asking council’s permission. Or so it increasingly seems. In the latest sign that council has grown weary of the strong-mayor form of government, freshman at-large councilman Ed Neilson (who may or may not have a job after this forthcoming election) thinks it would be a good idea for the mayor t0 run all the big cabinet appointees past Council for confirmation, reports Claudia Vargas for Inquirer. What’s more, Darrell Clarke seems to think that’s an idea worth considering.
  • At this point it’s hard to read about Kathleen Kane, or any of the many figures pursuing her, without coming away from the story feeling confused and vaguely dirty. Here’s another in the same genre.
  • Dave Davies examines Sam Katz‘s prospects as an independent mayoral candidate this fall. He thinks Katz will face fundraising problems, and I agree. Davies and political media maestro Neil Oxman also think Katz’s potential candidacy would be hurt if a Republican mayoral candidate is in the mix. I think that’s true to a point, but I’d wager a lot of Republicans would gladly vote for Katz over, say, Elmer Money (Who, you ask? Exactly). I also think that by running as an Independent instead of as a Republican, Katz could win over a few extra Democrats who would have a hard time pulling the lever for a registered GOP candidate; perhaps enough, or more than enough, to nullify any minimal loss of registered Republican votes.