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Expectations of our Future Philadelphia Workforce: The Chamber of Commerce reacts to Mayor Kenney’s announcement on future of education

Posted Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Public Policy, Advocacy, Education & Talent

 The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (Chamber), which represents roughly 600,000 employees from thousands of member companies and organizations in 11 counties and three states, including 291,000 employee members in the City of Philadelphia, believes that an educated and diverse workforce is key to the long-term competitive success of the city and region and acts as a catalyst to attract and retain businesses.  To achieve that objective, we need a strong public education system that is adequately funded and professionally managed and governed.

“We believe that access to quality education across the continuum, from Pre-K through post-secondary, will assure the region’s competitive advantage.  The Chamber is focused on ensuring that the city’s education and workforce development systems are effective, efficient, agile, accountable, and continually produce a competitive, world-class workforce.  We applaud Mayor Kenney’s leadership at this pivotal time for the future of education in Philadelphia, and the city’s future workforce,” said Chamber President and CEO Rob Wonderling.

Our broad and practical expectations of our future Philadelphia workforce are based on the following principles, regardless of the governance model deployed to make it so.  They are as follows:

  • Public Funding:  All citizens and interests must share in the responsibility of educating Philadelphia’s youth.  This includes our public servants at the School District of Philadelphia, city government, state government, employers, residents, organized labor, and philanthropic institutions. The Chamber will not support significant and disproportionate local tax increases on employers to address funding shortfalls and believes a fair state funding formula for public education must be a large part of the funding solution. As Philadelphia learned painfully in the late 1980s, while tax rate increases can yield temporary additions to revenues, the devastating negative impact of such tax policy on the tax base will yield a deteriorating tax revenue stream in the medium and long term.

Appropriate state public funding with an emphasis on a revised/modern funding formula that is applied to all school districts and a fair and practical charter school reimbursement policy is necessary at the state level.  Local funding of Philadelphia’s education system must be coupled with a recognition of the limits of the local tax base and must be accompanied by proper stewardship and greater efficiency and accountability on the expenditure of current/additional public funds.

  • Efficiency and Innovation:  More quality charter school opportunities (coupled with the termination of poor-performing charter institutions), combined with a more efficient School District of Philadelphia infrastructure that corrects for student population numbers and school occupancy.  Facilities and seats are currently not aligned with the student population.  In addition, an intentional alignment across the K-12 continuum and all schools (neighborhood, magnet, charter, etc.) to educate and train Philadelphia’s future workforce, including business partnership coordinators in every school who can help implement system-wide partnerships.
  • Encouraging the deployment of innovative educational models, partnerships, and technologies that might include shared data across public, charter, and parochial schools, to best assess and respond to the current needs for all Philadelphia students.  In addition, consumer and grassroots initiatives that continue learning opportunities for students and families, and innovative “ready to work” strategies for employers, teachers, and students.

Over the past several years, the Chamber has been a fierce advocate for high quality educational outcomes.  We have worked closely with the School Reform Commission (SRC) and the School District of Philadelphia on many fronts, from helping to secure approval for $300 million in financing, to advocating to extend a 1 percent city sales tax, to supporting a cigarette tax to generate roughly $80 million annually.  The Chamber was also actively involved in a statewide coalition to modernize the total public outlay for education in the Commonwealth.

In addition, the Chamber, through its members, has led engagement strategies across the PreK-12 continuum, benefiting Philadelphia students:

  • Read to Me:  A partnership between the Chamber, PNC Grow Up Great, and the School District of Philadelphia.  This year-long program supports early childhood literacy and inspires readership in our school-aged youth by providing quality classroom book collections to thousands of Philadelphia students and facilitates workshops that encourage caregivers to read aloud to their children at home.
  • Read by 4th:  The Chamber is a community partner and funder of Read by 4th, an unprecedented citywide effort, managed by the Free Library of Philadelphia, with the goal of doubling the number of children reading at grade level by 4th grade by 2020.
  • Future Ready Career Pathways for Middle School StudentsFuture Ready is a partnership between the Chamber, Wells Fargo, and the School District of Philadelphia.  This transformational program engages and enlightens Philadelphia middle school students about future career opportunities and the paths to get them there through in-classroom instruction and a half-day immersion with a Philadelphia-based company.
  • Youth Workforce Development:  For almost a decade, the Chamber and its members have supported the work of the Philadelphia Youth Network and its Work Ready campaign.

It is important to note that any future legislative and regulatory initiatives must consider the potential impact on the competitiveness of our city – from an educational outcomes perspective and from a tax structure and level perspective. 

The School District and SRC have made a series of tough decisions over the last several years to reduce expenditures.  The district halved the size of its administrative workforce and the SRC closed more than 30 schools due to decreased enrollment and escalating costs.  While these were difficult decisions, the Chamber supported those efforts, but believes that there are additional opportunities to right-size schools and other facilities in relation to the number of students.

We look forward to being a part of the conversation as the city and School District of Philadelphia come together to lead students into a well-educated and prosperous future for Philadelphia.

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