#PHL2015 Candidates Have a “Duty to Respond” on Stuff They Can’t Do Anything About

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This op-ed by James Lytle is Exhibit A in the case for not spending too much time talking about education in the 2015 Philly Mayoral race, even though that’s the issue most people seem to want to debate next year.

Titled “Education issues to consider in the mayoral race,” the op-ed proceeds with a list of very important, but overwhelmingly state education issues that were already considered in the 2014 Governor’s race, or need to be considered in the 2016 state legislative elections.

Then at the end there’s a list of stuff that city policy touches on somewhat, but most of which would still need to be signed off on by the state-controlled School Reform Commission – to which the Mayor gets two of the five appointees.

How can services to special needs students, recent immigrants, and English language learners be improved? Is it possible to have more school closings or employee givebacks to reduce budget problems without reducing educational quality? What can be done to satisfy middle-class families with young children who threaten to abandon District schools? How should schools be held to account? Is high school completion more important than test scores? Should charter schools be required to publish detailed annual budgets and audit reports? How can the city’s extraordinary higher education, medical, cultural and community resources contribute to educating school-aged children?

Of course the Mayoral candidates should say what they think should happen with all of these important issues, but if you really want to hold elected officials accountable for this stuff, you need to ask Tom Wolf and the relevant state legislative leaders what they want to do, because that’s whose opinions are ultimately going to carry the day here.

The sad fact is that the Mayoral candidates just don’t have very much in the way of real control over education policy, and it would be totally nuts to spend the campaign season having essentially a symbolic debate about what the direction of state policy should be. Hearing all the candidates talk about this stuff so far, to a person, the pitch is basically “I’ll be the best education lobbyist to the state for Philly, because x, y, z.

That’s crazy. If we want a lobbyist, let’s hire a lobbyist. If we want more effective political communicators for the message local education activists want delivered to Harrisburg, then let’s elect some more state lawmakers with decent political communication skills – currently a small minority of the Philly delegation.

But let’s hire a Mayor to do the things that the Mayor actually controls and manages on a day to day basis like transportation and planning, police and fire safety, economic development, and so on.

This entry was posted in Elections, Philadelphia 2015.

12 Responses to #PHL2015 Candidates Have a “Duty to Respond” on Stuff They Can’t Do Anything About

  1. Dan Sullivan says:

    Candidates usually prefer to talk about what other people should do than about what he will do, and to talk about what he will do rather than what he has done. Even as private citizen, one can give public testimony and otherwise champion reforms one considers important. A candidate who has not done these things has no track record and should not be considered qualified.

    Talking about what one will do, or what one will ask others to do, is the essence of pandering. Talking about what one has done is the essence of accountability.

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  3. WeBuiltThisCity says:

    The only thing related to education I’d like to hear them discuss is property tax – which is used to fund the schools. Notably I’d like to hear some discussion about the future of the property tax abatement. Despite many of the GPAR/BIA-funded studies, it is becoming quite clear that the residential market in much of Philadelphia has done quite well.

    While large scale projects are still built with high union wages, much of the stick-frame work in the neighborhoods is being built for $115/ft with non-union labor. This is hardly the “New York construction costs with Baltimore rents” condition they frequently cite and can easily be sold/rented in the current successful market of many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods without a 10 year full tax abatement. GPAR/BIA are a biased player here – and while I frequently agree with them about issues, they need to eventually back off the property tax abatement as it currently exists.

    I’d like to see us start capturing some of this new construction boom in property taxes sooner than 10 years. I’d like to hear a Mayoral candidate say this without sounding anti-development like Councilman Goode.

  4. Kevin P. says:

    Given Wolf’s public comments about abolishing the SRC, isn’t it possible that the new mayor will have a far greater impact than you are imagining? Moreover, the additional services that so many students need (health screenings, counseling, etc.) are under the purview of city government and not the SDP. If we had a mayor who believed in the concept of public schools and community, the concept of a community school with “wrap-around” services would be easier to implement. However, if we had a mayor actively advocating for all-charter district (e.g., New Orleans or York, PA), it would be one more enemy.

  5. Jon:
    You’re wrong. Unless you, like Anthony Williams, hate the idea of public schools.

  6. Dan Sullivan says:

    Yes, you can do as you please, and that includes engaging in personal attacks instead of saying something useful. And, we can call you on it. There are many reasons to criticize voucher education, which might be the issue behind your ugly statements, and there are also many reasons to defend vouchers. Telling people they hate public education because they say something good about someone else who supported voucher education just drags down the conversation.

    But, then, making personal attacks is so much easier than reasoning, and there are so many people on the internet who want to be heard and have nothing to say..

    • phillydem says:

      I’d be interested in hearing the good things associated with voucher education. Care to share them?

  7. Dan Sullivan says:

    If they’re done right, they can make educators more directly accountable to parents. That is the biggest benefit by far. Ideally, vouchers should be cumulative, so people whose children attend the public school in their own district save up the vouchers for trade school, etc., or even for private schooling in the higher grades. The vouchers should be offset, not with cuts to public education, but with cuts in subsidies to higher education. Our public K-12 schools are not nearly as bloated as our colleges and universities.

    I agree, however, that most voucher programs have been designed by people who have more hostility to public education than interest in the well being of the students. How a voucher system is designed is critically important.