People Power in Philadelphia

State officials wanted to talk education funding without hearing from parents. Philly didn't let them.

I’m so proud of my city.

Do we say that enough in Philadelphia? Outside of the Philly Love Notes blog, probably not often enough. But every once in a while, something happens that reveals the underlying character of the city’s population — and we sometimes surprise ourselves when that something is good.

Well, that something happened this week.

Here’s what happened. The state’s Basic Education Funding Committee came to town for two days of hearings. It had a lot of people on the schedule: Mayor Nutter. Superintendent William Hite. Experts from Penn and Temple. School choice advocates. A real array of the city’s smartest and best-known officials.

Not on the schedule? Parents.

Not on the schedule? Students.

The Basic Education Funding Commission wanted to come to town and hear from just about everybody except the people who are most directly affected by the inadequacies in how we fund our schools.

Crazy, right?

Well, Philadelphia didn’t let that stand.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth announced it would hold a separate one-hour hearing and give the tape to the commission.

POWER, a faith-based organizing group, said it would provide witnesses directly to the commission — whether they were wanted or not. “If there is no authentic public comment period provided, we feel we have no other choice but to exercise our rights to do the right thing and provide expert witnesses anyway, regardless of whether or not they have been invited,” the group said in an open letter to the commission.

In other words: Listen to us. Or you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Admittedly, I’m not always a fan of such threats. They should probably be used rarely. As often as not, shutting down an event to draw attention to your pet topic is self indulgent. Sometimes, it’s simply rude.

In this case, though, the Basic Education Funding Commission was failing to consider the Big Picture of … basic education funding. All POWER and PCCY did was demand the commission take a broader, fuller view.

The commission, to its credit — albeit under pressure — reconsidered. POWER negotiated a “public comment” period  to be open the second day of hearings — and more importantly, it got the commission to agree to hold a public comment session at its remaining meetings elsewhere around the state. It is, unequivocally, the right thing for the commission to do.

“We fought for public testimony at these hearings because we believe people of this city and state should get a say in their own destiny,” the Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel A.M.E said in a press release announcing the agreement. “This is not just a win for POWER. It’s a win for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.”

He’s right. It’s a remarkable thing. And it happened because Philadelphians — residents of one of the most pugnacious, argumentative cities you’ll ever know — took a stand and forced the issue. We used our powers for good. We should all be proud of our city.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.