Op-ed: We must invest in the education of young Philadelphians

School District of Philadelphia headquarters is pictured on N. Broad Street.

Everyone speaks negatively about public education without really understanding the true reasons for the continued demise of our public educational system. 

If we fail to adequately invest in the education of our young people then we set ourselves up for the continued negative consequences that we are currently experiencing in our city. Historically, our public schools have been underfunded. In Spring 2023, the Commonwealth Court in Pennsylvania ruled in a lawsuit brought by the urban and rural schools that the current state public school funding methodology was indeed inequitable and exacerbated disparities based on the local wealth of Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts. 

Currently, Gov. Josh Shapiro gave the task of creating equity in education funding to the bi-partisan Basic Education Funding Commission, which determined that a $5.4 billion infusion of funds using the Fair Funding Formula should occur over the next seven years. This infusion would result in about $770 million in additional state funding for school districts, with Philadelphia receiving about $250 million in additional funds each year, raising the state per pupil expenditure in Philadelphia to $15,700 by 2031-32.

This money is desperately needed for the School District of Philadelphia public school students. Superintendent Dr. Tony Watlington’s Accelerate Philly plan clearly indicates what needs to occur for schools to be successful entities where optimal learning reigns supreme. In the Accelerate Philly plan, there is a clear delineation for each school to have the necessary human resources (without fail): Principal, Assistant Principal, Climate Manager, Special Education Compliance Monitor, and Math and Reading Teacher Leaders. Currently, funding does not allow for this, despite other school districts having the ability and desire to staff those positions. 

When traditional public schools are unable to properly staff the critical positions that support and manage the day-to-day operations in a school building, the neediest students miss out on having an outstanding public school educational experience due to district management having to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

All students, whether they are enrolled in traditional public, charter, or private schools deserve a fully funded, world-class education. Despite being woefully underfunded, traditional public schools continue to make incremental gains. Imagine the potential of our city and state if our legislature fully invested in our most vulnerable citizens; the children of Philadelphia.

Dr. Robin P. Cooper is the President and Principal Officer of Teamsters Local 502:Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA).