The Brief: State Moves Closer to Taking Over Philly Schools — Again

Plus, what business needs to do to be more relevant next election, and the city's elections chief sues to stop an ethics probe.


1. A state Senate committee approved a bill that would put low-performing Pennsylvania schools into a state-run system.

The gist: The Inquirer’s Chris Palmer reports that the Senate Education Committee moved the legislation, which would give the lowest-performing five percent of schools statewide two to three years to improve, and compel those that don’t to convert to charter schools or contract with outside education providers.

If enacted, Palmer reports, about 100 Philadelphia public schools could be impacted. They’d join a state takeover district, or “achievement district,” which would be overseen by a statewide board.

Republican Education Committee Chair Lloyd Smucker says the bill has bipartisan backing, but it’s not clear which Democrats are supporting it. Philadelphia State Senator Vincent Hughes will introduce a rival bill ordering up a different set of reforms for low-performing schools, including smaller class sizes, more school hours and enhanced social services, Palmer reports.

Why it matters: It seems unlikely the Republican-controlled state legislature will approve significant new funding for schools without tying some big, thick strings to the cash. This certainly qualifies.

No district would be more heavily impacted than Philadelphia which is, of course, already run by a different state-appointed school board: the School Reform Commission. The SRC already has some of the special powers this new statewide board would have, such as the ability to bypass some seniority protections. And, of course, the SRC can and does convert low-performing public schools into “renaissance” charter schools.

It would seem the most likely impact of this legislation on the city, if it should pass, would be to accelerate — perhaps dramatically — the conversion of traditional neighborhood public schools into charters. That prospect alarms Superintendent Bill Hite, because of the stranded costs created by charter conversions. As WHYY’s Kevin McCorry explained in an earlier article about the legislation:

This bill would put those turnarounds on the state’s timetable, which, based on the stranded costs of charter conversions, is extremely worrisome to school district leaders.

“It could create a circumstance where we’re taking additional monies from all of our other schools,” said Superintendent William Hite.

Smucker’s bill proposes to fund the charter conversions using the existing charter funding formula, which does not account for the added costs of operating multiple school systems in addition to the district itself.

2. City elections chief Anthony Clark sues to stop a Philadelphia Board of Ethics probe.

The gist: Anthony Clark, chairman of the City Commissioners, has sued the Board of Ethics in an attempt to stop an investigation into a raise the alleges Clark inappropriately secured for his brother. His brother — you guessed it — works for the Commissioners, an office with a long and not-so-proud history of nepotism. Chris Brennan reports for the Inky that Clark is contending Shane Creamer, the Ethics board executive director, “does not have the authority” to prosecute the case.

Why it matters: Despite the heroic efforts of Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt, between Clark and Stephanie Singer, the reputation of the City Commissioners is pretty much mud right now. This doesn’t help.

3. City business community critiqued, gently, for weak showing in May election.

The gist: Jeff Blumenthal has an interesting story in the Philadelphia Business Journal that looks back on the role — or lack thereof — the city’s business community played in May’s election. Writes Blumenthal:

Some think Philadelphia’s business leaders need to be more aggressive and organized when it comes to city politics, emulating the approach of union leaders such as John Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.