Kenney's education plan: hubs, pre-K, nonprofit cash

Jim Kenney talks to school nurse Janice Smith during a tour of John Hancock Elementary school in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)
Jim Kenney talks to school nurse Janice Smith during a tour of John Hancock Elementary school in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)

If elected mayor, Jim Kenney would "end the annual budgetary crisis" for the Philadelphia School District, he pledged in an education policy paper released Monday.

Speaking at an early-childhood education center in University City, Kenney outlined a plan to raise more money for the district that said he would not require raising property taxes. He says he would emphasize schools as hubs of the community and provide universal pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

To raise new, recurring money for the cash-strapped district, Kenney - a Democratic former city councilman - said he would sell commercial tax liens, institute zero-based budgeting and raise land values on abated properties.

He also said large city nonprofits should contribute to Philadelphia's coffers, either through payments in lieu of taxes or services in lieu of taxes.

Kenney said he would find $105 million annually for the district - the same sum proposed by Mayor Nutter, who wants to raise property taxes to fund the school system.

Advocating in Harrisburg for dollars - and a funding formula for public schools - is key, Kenney said, but not enough.

"We're not waiting for Harrisburg to fly in and save us," he said.

He wants community schools - school buildings that house social services as well as classrooms and function as hubs in their community. He said he would work to restore cuts to school libraries, work with nonprofits and city departments to get more students in after-school activities, boost career and technical education, and expand the Community College of Philadelphia's dual enrollment program.

He also stressed universal pre-kindergarten for all needy children. He said that would cost $60 million over three years to pay for the programs, with the city paying $40 million and the rest of the tab picked up by nonprofits or through community partnerships.

Kenney, who spoke in a room lined with tiny tricycles and child-size sink, said that every dollar spent on pre-K programs yields an economic benefit of $1.79.

He also said he wants to explore the possibility of having Community College of Philadelphia offer four-year degrees because "the cost of education is so prohibitive these days."

Asked whether he supported the dissolution of the School Reform Commission, as some have urged, Kenney said he was more in favor of a recast SRC that had more parent and community representation.

"The SRC's demise won't necessarily bring increased funding for our school system," Kenney said, adding that getting rid of the SRC could give "Harrisburg an opportunity to say, 'Well, we're going to wash our hands of you, too.' "

Kenney emphasized that all his proposals were within a mayor's power to enact; some other candidates have called for changes that would require the state to act.

Kenney was introduced by Rachelle Nocito, a retired district teacher and librarian, who said she supported him because "it has been clear that he feels a personal commitment to our children in public schools."

 


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