Lynne Abraham would sue Harrisburg to adequately fund city schools

Lynne Abraham during the Next Great City Coalition´s Mayoral Forum on March 3, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )
Lynne Abraham during the Next Great City Coalition's Mayoral Forum on March 3, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )

If elected mayor, Lynne M. Abraham says, she would take Harrisburg to federal court if necessary to force lawmakers to adequately fund Philadelphia schools.

She wants to end the School Reform Commission and replace it with a board of elected and appointed members.

And she wants to add city caseworkers to deal with chronic school absenteeism, institute mandatory prekindergarten, and prioritize fixing or replacing the School District's stock of old, crumbling buildings.

Abraham articulated her ideas in an education plan released Thursday. The former district attorney is one of six candidates vying to win the May 19 Democratic mayoral primary.

As her opponents have, Abraham promised that she would raise more money for the Philadelphia School District without increasing property taxes, as Mayor Nutter has proposed. She pledged to work with Harrisburg politicians for a fair education-funding formula and charter school reimbursements.

Neither of those things - nor the dissolution of the SRC - is actually controlled by the mayor.

But she did say she would use the Mayor's Office to give $20 million in city funds to support a prekindergarten initiative, use city departments to expand district athletic and after-school activities, and quadruple the number of Department of Human Services caseworkers devoted to preventing chronic absenteeism in schools.

She also said she would support a lawsuit brought by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Education Law Center, some city parents, and others. The groups say Pennsylvania has abrogated its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public schools.

"Lynne will fight to make sure Philadelphia gets the fair share of education dollars and will take the state to federal court if they refuse," the policy paper states.

Abraham indicated strong support for Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s action plan, which calls for full autonomy for strong schools and for the district to be carved up into several networks, including a "turnaround" network of low-performing schools that could be run by outside companies.

Abraham also called for a mandatory career-guidance program in district high schools, and noted that many district buildings are old ("pre-Wifi, pre-energy efficiency, and prehistoric by today's standards") and in poor repair. She wants a timeline for renovations and replacements.

District officials have estimated that it would cost $4 billion to fully fix the district's facilities problems.

Abraham, who cofounded a nonprofit that now operates a charter school in Reading, has called for a moratorium on new charter schools until a new mayor is elected.

 


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