U.S. News

State governor approves local control plan for Philadelphia schools

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Public schools in Philadelphia, the 8th largest school district in the United States, will begin a return to local control on July 1 following approval this week by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and his Education Secretary.

FILE PHOTO: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaks on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The state of Pennsylvania took over the schools in Philadelphia, its largest city, in 2001 following a series of financial crises, and appointed a School Reform Commission (SRC) to run the district.

Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney asked for a return of local control, and the SRC approved its own dissolution last month. Wolf and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera needed to sign off for decontrol to move forward.

“Local control with strong state support will make the district stronger,” Wolf said in a statement. “[It] will better serve the needs of the district’s students and schools.”

The district serves nearly 200,000 students, about a third of them in charter schools. It employs more than 8,600 teachers and has an annual budget of close to $3 billion.

Philadelphia city councillor Helen Gym, who called state control an “experiment” on minority children, lauded the governor’s action.

“After 16 years, I’m glad to see the experiment come to a decisive conclusion,” she said. “This is a victory for all who fought for fair funding, who demanded democratic local governance.”

The next step in the decontrol process will be the formation of a 13-member nominating committee to help decide membership of the new city school board. Gym said the committee will nominate up to 27 candidates and Kenney will choose nine of those.

Kenney could not be reached for comment on Thursday. In the past, he has promised to work for tax increases if the school district needs more local revenue to stabilize its finances.

While the district is currently in the black, it faces a projected five-year deficit of $700 million, according to data released by the SRC.

Rivera, in a letter this week to the SRC, did not downplay the financial challenges still faced by the district, but said Kenney’s commitment to local revenue was an important factor in his decision in favor of decontrol.

Reporting By David DeKok, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien