Nutter calls for end to School Reform Commission

Nutter calls for end to School Reform Commission
Credit: File/ Rikard Larma/Metro

The School Reform Commission’s 15-year tenure at the helm of Philadelphia’s education system should end, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday.

“Returning local control means voters know who to hold accountable for education outcomes,” Nutter said.

Nutter made the comments to muted applause at the forum hosted by WHYY in what could be his last major policy speech as mayor.

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Because his term ends in just a few months, it’s extremely unlikely that Nutter would quarterback such a change, but he laid out the broad outlines of a plan that, if followed, would see the return of a local school board by September 2017.

That would include major legislative changes in Harrisburg that would change the state’s education funding formula. The district would also need to make changes to stabilize its finances.

The School Reform Commission was established in 2001 after a state takeover of Philadelphia schools amid a funding crisis and low educational outcomes. The Governor appoints three members, the mayor two.

If there were a school board, the mayor appoints all nine members.

But Nutter said any reforms should spread accountability around, giving city council the ability to appoint four of nine school board members.

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Nutter said he spent every day of the last eight years working on education issues.

He said the district has made strides in increasing the graduation rates of students who have been in contact with the juvenile justice system and in foster care.

But he said disparities in education are still far too great. He said that in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, 30 percent of students go to the city’s top schools. In the poorest neighborhood, that figure stands at just four percent.

He gave a list of other reforms that could improve educational outcomes.

Nutter said the biggest single thing schools could do to improve is establish parent advisory boards that can raise money and give staff advice on setting priorities.

Some of those groups — like the ones at Andrew Jackson Elementary and Henry C Lea — have made huge strides in attracting families who hadn’t considered public schools.

Nutter offered this advice to the city’s next mayor: “Set your own new, ambitious educational goals. Ones you have to strive for and work every day to make a reality.”