cherelle parker school choice philadelphia

Stefano: Can Cherelle Parker deliver justice for Philly kids?

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and Commonwealth Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano wrote in her column this week that Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker can be a force to help enact school choice policies, boosting positive outcomes for Philadelphia’s youth.

During her inaugural address, Parker described her difficult childhood, saying, “I am not supposed to be here,” adding, “I was born to a single, teenage mother without a father present in my life.” 

According to Stefano, “[Parker] was raised by her grandparents. The family survived using food stamps and public assistance. Parker was educated in the Philadelphia public school system.”

While Parker overcame difficult challenges, Stefano notes that many Philadelphia kids will be “part of the statistics for Black children in Philadelphia’s failing schools that leave them more likely to be living in poverty, in jail, or dead than becoming mayor.”

Stefano says the new mayor can help change that.

Stefano writes:

The “2022 Reading Trial Urban District Snapshot Report” showed that 92% of Black kids in Philadelphia are not proficient at reading in fourth grade. Stop and think what this means: Almost every Black child in a city-run school is not being taught to read. …

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Public Health Association have advocated for people to recognize that “health disparities are predicted by educational disparities.” Good health, these organizations say, is predicted by good education. …

Violence and crime shape the lives of students in the most beleaguered school districts, not only while they are in school but also during their commute. Students at Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools — the bottom 15% based on statewide testing — are twice as likely to experience violence than their peers in higher-performing schools.

These facts are nothing short of cataclysmic for thousands of our city’s low-income children of color.

Which brings us back to why Parker shouldn’t be here. The new mayor knows these statistics all too well, and she likely witnessed them both as a child and as a former teacher. As an astute politician, Parker knows she can do an awful lot to change that dynamic. The mayor has the power to appoint school board members. …

The current [school] board continues to deny applications for new charter schools, despite more than 18,000 students . . . languishing on a waitlist. …

Parker must make that happen, especially to support Black-led charter schools. They comprise only 19% of Philadelphia’s charter schools but represent 87% of charters targeted for closure between 2010 and 2020. To end this, Parker must immediately name charter advocates to the board.

And she shouldn’t stop there. Of Philadelphia’s 219 schools, 138 are “low-achieving,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Students at these schools would be eligible for Lifeline Scholarships/PASS, providing them with Educational Opportunity Accounts to find a better school

Standing in the way of all this is the Democratic machine funded by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Helen Gym in the primary. Parker proved she could win without them. …

Whether Parker has the political courage to take on her party and the teachers’ unions to deliver justice for kids like herself remains to be seen.

You can read Stefano’s entire column here


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