Monday, August 31, 2015

We can lose full-day kindergarten, or we can lose ... what, exactly?

Here’s a brief synopsis of the choices the School District gave to City Council today when it marched into chambers and, after some hemming and hawing, requested between $75 and $110 million in additional funds:

We can lose full-day kindergarten, or we can lose … what, exactly?

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Here’s a brief synopsis of the choices the School District gave to City Council today when it marched into chambers and, after some hemming and hawing, requested between $75 and $110 million in additional funds:

Door Number One: Kiss a lot of money goodbye. Also forfeit control over how that money is spent, and continue to make a new, larger contribution to the School District every year from now on, because of the peculiarities of state law.

Door Number Two: Ditch the kids.

The fact that the district is able to present Council with this type of miserable choice raises questions about the structure of the relationship between the schools and the city. We’ll get into those as the week goes along. For now, two observations:

  • Councilman Bill Green hammered the district with questions about what it is not cutting. The district has threatened to end full-day kindergarten, and Green wanted to know whether that’s really the best possible cut. After all, data shows that full-day kindergarten improves educational outcomes. Is that the case for, say, summer school, which the district has not threatened to cut? This struck us as a valuable contribution from Green (assuming the district provides the requested information), because it will help the public better understand the choices being made.
  • Speaking of choices, if the city decides to help the district – which the mayor and council seem inclined to do – it will need to come up with the money somewhere. That means either a tax hike or significant budget cuts. But yesterday, neither the mayor nor most council members were willing to speculate about where they might get the money. Hopefully this state of affairs won’t last long. Just as Councilman Green wanted to understand the district’s choices, taxpayers should have an opportunity to understand the choices the city is considering. We can lose full-day kindergarten, or we can lose … what, exactly?

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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