Today’s Philly Schoolchildren Will Pay Your Social Security Tomorrow

Why should Harrisburg throw more money at the city's schools? Pure, enlightened self-interest.

Well, Philadelphia schools seem stuck.

Today, after weeks of bargaining, haggling, lobbying and urgency, it’s still the case that the district will start the 2013-14 school year more than $100 million short on funds. State officials in Harrisburg have thrown a little extra into the pot, as has the Philadelphia City Council, but unless the gap is closed the year is looming as a disaster.

In Philadelphia, it’s been hard to watch the process and think that one big reason for the impasse is that legislators in Harrisburg don’t see the city’s children as being part of their community. Is it a general anti-urban thing, is it more racial, or both? We all have our suspicions. And those suspicions are the reason we do things like indulge in silly little secessionist scenarios and generally get moody: If we’re already isolated from the state, why not make it official?

Maybe the angry approach is the wrong approach. Maybe we need to do a better job of appealing to legislators and their (ahem) sense of enlightened self-interest. Maybe we should make it clear to them that it matters to them what happens in the Philadelphia school district.

So here goes:

Hey legislators! Quick message for you! Today’s Philadelphia schoolkids are going to be the ones paying for your Social Security in 20 years! You might want to think hard about how to put them in the best possible position for economic success!


Check out this Sunday story from the Associated Press, which notes depressingly familiar statistics about how children in African American, American Indian, and Hispanic families are roughly twice as likely to live in poverty. The disparity has long been the case in America, of course, but one thing is changing:

The overrepresentation of minority children among the poor is not new. What is new is that minority children will, in the not-too-distant future, form the core of the nation’s workforce, and their taxes will be depended on to keep solvent entitlement programs for the elderly.

In other words: It was one thing to leave minority children—Philly kids—behind back when they’d grow up and still be the minority. But a few years from now, dear legislators, you’re going to depend on those kids to pay the taxes needed to ensure your old white constituents keep getting their gubmint checks. Because today’s white kids (who generally seem to be taken care of pretty well) will be less than 50 percent of the population by 2050. They’re not going to be able to shoulder that tax burden all by themselves.

The time to start thinking and planning for that? Now. Kids in underperforming school systems are less likely to graduate—and tend to have lower-than-average lifetime earnings. Philadelphia (let’s be honest here) is in just about every sense an “underperforming school system,” and it’s perhaps understandable that legislators would be reluctant to throw more good money after bad. So we in Philadelphia should be listening to alternative solutions, so long as they’re actually solutions. (Though let it be remembered that Harrisburg’s preferred alternatives, cyber charters and regular charter schools, haven’t actually proven less vulnerable to corruption and malfeasance than the city’s regular public schools.)

To recap: Minority kids like the ones that make up the bulk of students in Philadelphia schools will, in the not-too-distant future, make up the bulk of the workforce. To compete and earn money that keeps programs like Social Security and Medicare solvent, they’ll have to be educated well-enough to handle the various demands of the 21st century workplace. Which means that if you want to collect a Social Security check someday, investing in Philly kids now is one of the likeliest ways of getting to do so.

It’s not difficult, dear legislators. Just think long-term, then be as selfish as possible. You’ll end up doing the right thing.