Good to see foundations helping city schools

The Philadelphia School Partnership is well on its way toward a $100 million fund-raising goal for Philadelphia schools. That type of effort in the aftermath of a crippling recession deserves loud applause.

But the fund-raising drive also should raise questions about the future of public schools if their survival must depend on the goodwill of charitable sponsors because government funding has become woefully inadequate.

In just under two years, the nonprofit partnership has raised an impressive $51.9 million. The funds are to be split among traditional public schools, charters, and private schools. But so far, no regular schools have received grants through the program.

That has raised concern among some interested parties, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, who said chronically failing city schools should not be overlooked.

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Schools advocate Helen Gym also bristled at Mayor Nutter’s remarks, in announcing the fund-raising drive’s success, that whether a school was labeled public, private, or charter didn’t matter.

“Ask a parent who can’t dream of paying a $26,100 tuition bill from Penn Charter whether a high-quality, free public elementary school in their neighborhood is a matter of meaningless, ‘esoteric debate,’ ” said Gym in a blog post.

The funds being raised largely come from a philanthropic community that has been reluctant to invest in efforts linked to the public schools. Its support now represents a huge vote of confidence in the retooled School Reform Commission, whose five members include four new commissioners.

Partnership Chairman Michael O’Neill says the hope is that competition from better schools will force bad schools to improve. That often-spouted theory sounds good, but competition alone won’t make bad schools good. They, too, need investment. As the fund drive continues, that must be kept in mind.

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