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.