Mayoral Candidate Williams Unveils a Plan to Fund Philly Schools

Yes, this is news.

State Sen. Anthony Williams | Photo Credit: Holly Otterbein

State Sen. Anthony Williams | Photo Credit: Holly Otterbein

When state Sen. Anthony Williams released his first policy paper on education last month, we didn’t mince words: We called it “half-baked.” There wasn’t a word in the mayoral candidate’s proposal about how much money the city should provide to the local school district.

On Wednesday, Williams unveiled a more detailed budget plan at his campaign headquarters in Center City.

First, some context: The cash-strapped Philadelphia School District is asking for $103 million from the city and $206 million from the state in new funding. It is facing an $80 million budget deficit next fiscal year.

Williams wants to raise “at least” $200 million in combined local and state dollars. The details:

  • He’s calling on Pennsylvania to reinstate what is known as the “charter reimbursement line item,” which he estimates would provide $100 million to the city’s schools annually. (When former Gov. Tom Corbett axed that part of the state budget in 2011, it cut more than $100 million to the Philadelphia School District.) Williams said he has been working with state Rep. John Taylor, a Philadelphia-based Republican, “to get an open-minded reception in the legislature.”
  • Williams wants the city to adjust the district’s share of local property tax revenues. Currently, the district gets 55 percent of those dollars. He wants to jack that up to 60 percent. Asked how he would pay for the difference in the budget, Williams said the city government would find “efficiencies.” He said, “It’s less than 1 percent of the total city budget … any time that the city has met crisis in Philadelphia before, they have used efficiencies to fill gaps.”
  • The nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership recently made a controversial offer to the school district: It would hand over a $35 million check if the School Reform Commission approved several new charter schools. Under his funding proposal, Williams would request $25 million for charters from the PSP, as well as $25 million for traditional public schools. “We cannot afford to turn down dollars that are offered to help our schools,” he said. When asked if the group would agree to Williams’ ask, PSP public affairs director Kristen Forbriger was noncommittal. “We have spoken with the senator,” she said. “We’re still very willing to discuss how we can support the district financially. Beyond that, I can’t give a whole lot of specifics regarding the senator’s plan.”

This plan certainly faces a lot of challenges: It would require the GOP-controlled state legislature to sign onto the revival of the charter reimbursement, which is not guaranteed. It depends on the PSP cutting a $50 million check to the district, which it has not yet indicated it will do. And where will the government “efficiencies” come from?

But it is a plan. And that’s worth something in a mayoral race that has had few big ideas and specific proposals so far.

The paper Williams released today also addressed other education issues, such as pre-K and community college. We’ll explore those ideas in the near future. You can check out the proposal for yourself here:

Anthony Williams’ Education Paper