The Four Ballot Questions You’ll See Tuesday, in Plain English

Getting past the legalese to cast an informed vote.

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There are four questions up for vote in Tuesday’s primary election, and often the legalese can be difficult to understand if you’re seeing the questions for the first time when you’re in the voting booth. But these might be the most straightforward ballot questions we’ve ever seen.

Here, with some help from the Philadelphia Office of City Commissioners, is each question broken down into plain English. Then we break it down even Englishier.

Question 1

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to abolish the School Reform Commission and return local control of Philadelphia’s schools?

In Plain English: “This is a non-binding referendum calling on the State Government to return the Philadelphia public school system to local control. The School District of Philadelphia currently is governed by a State-controlled School Reform Commission. This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would express the view that the State takeover of the public school system has weakened the voices of parents and community in the operation of public education in Philadelphia, and that the School Reform Commission should be abolished.”

Even Englishier: The state has had the lion’s share of say in running Philadelphia schools for more than a decade. You should vote “yes” if you want Philadelphia running its own schools, like other cities do. However, this vote is non-binding, meaning state and SRC authorities could ignore it no matter the result.

Question 2

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for the creation of a Commission for Women to be charged with promoting civic, educational and economic policies for women and providing advice and recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on policies and programs that advance equal rights and opportunities for women in the City?

In Plain English: “This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would establish a new independent City commission, the “Commission for Women.”The Commission will have 27 members, appointed by the Mayor and City Council; the members will represent the diverse population of the City and will serve without compensation. City Council can change the method of appointment by ordinance. The Commission will have the purpose of advancing women to full equality and promoting equal opportunities for women in areas such as employment, compensation and education. The Commission will exercise advisory powers and duties with respect to the Mayor and Council on issues that affect women.”

Even Englishier: “Women continue to earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in this Nation,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds, who sponsored this effort. “And despite representing 52.8 percent of the City population, women occupy only 11 percent of corporate board seats in Philadelphia, and women of color represent less than one percent.” A Commission on Women would make recommendations on how City Hall can fix those inequities.

Question 3

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to require all City agencies to prepare, and comply with, plans to promote access to City services, compliance with City law and ease of contact with, and participation within, City government for people with limited English proficiency?

In Plain English: “Currently, a Mayor’s Executive Order requires all City agencies that report to the Mayor to develop Language Access Plans. These Plans are designed to improve access to City services for people with limited English proficiency and to make it easier for them to participate in City government. The proposed Charter change would require all City agencies, whether they report to the Mayor or not, to develop and carry out Language Access Plans. For example, the requirement would apply to independent agencies such as City Council, the District Attorney, and the City Commissioners. The amendment also would authorize the Mayor to designate a City agency to evaluate compliance with such plans.”

Even Englishier: Know those “English only” laws conservative state politicians occasionally try to pass? This is the exact opposite of that, and would require city agencies to deliver communications and services in any language spoken by a Philadelphia resident.

Question 4

Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for the creation, appointment, powers and duties of an independent Commission on Universal PreKindergarten which would recommend an implementation and funding plan for achieving universal high quality pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds in Philadelphia without taking away funds used for existing education?

In Plain English: “This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would establish a new Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten. The Commission would be composed of 17 members, including certain designated public officials and members appointed by the Mayor and Council. The Commission would be responsible for developing and recommending a plan to provide high quality prekindergarten for all three- and four-year olds in the City. The Commission would develop both an implementation plan and a funding plan. The Commission is required to make recommendations that would not decrease existing funding for education. The amendment also would require City Council to consider any funding plan recommended by the Commission; if Council fails to adopt such a funding plan, the Commission is directed to re-convene and to propose a plan in each following year until Council adopts one. “

Even Englishier: The commission would propose how to create and — more critically — how to pay for pre-K education for children across the entire city. The interesting part? If City Council rejects the commission’s work, the commission is ordered to keep trying, again and again, until it offers a proposal council approves. “Studies show that children do so much better with pre-K,” says Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who introduced the measure. “We don’t have all the money for it, but at least if we force the discussion, we think we’ll be closer to getting it done.”