Home > Uncategorized > Atlantic Article Underscores Dis-equalizing Forces in “Tax Reform”, Offers Little Hope for Change

Atlantic Article Underscores Dis-equalizing Forces in “Tax Reform”, Offers Little Hope for Change

February 8, 2018

Clint Smith’s Atlantic magazine article describing the “subtle subversion” of public education embedded in the new tax code fittingly features a picture of West Philadelphia University City High School with a fallen tree blocking the entrance: a great metaphor for the situation Philadelphia and ALL cities serving children raised in poverty face.

As one who lived in University City for three years, attended the two colleges that border University City, student taught at West Philadelphia HS, and lived in Philadelphia itself for a total of seven years I remember reading about West Philadelphia University City High School and how it would draw on the expertise of the colleges and nearby tech firms to help motivate the students in that part of town to work hard, stay in school, and aspire to college. In reading the Wikipedia entry about the school, it is evident it was doomed from the start, despite its high-minded goals and good intentions:

The district, community, and universities of West Philadelphia argued to make UCHS a math and science magnet school. The most gifted (mostly white students at the time) students were eligible to attend. UCHS was created to represent a new approach to learning in urban education, new in the sense that it would utilize the latest education, technology, and community resources to provide a meaningful individual program for each student, regardless of race or economic background. It aimed to create a college-based environment before entering college.

But complications with the school construction delayed the opening, the teachers assigned to the school “were not ready”, and, after three years the “Individualized Study Program” that was to be the hallmark of the program was abandoned. As Wikipedia described it: “The school’s mission was lost due to gang-related crimes. There was no structure or discipline from the beginning, allowing the students to get out of control.”

After a tumultuous time period when fights, drugs, and racial strife wracked the operation of the school and it’s test scores failed to meet the standards set by the district governed by an agency established by the State, and charter schools housed in the school facility fell short of the mark, it’s doors closed and in 2013 the 31 year old facility was leveled. Oh, and the declines in state funding didn’t help at all! Here’s data from Wikipedia:

In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55 percent of school funding statewide; in 2001 it provided less than 36 percent.[19] An analysis determined that increased district spending was limited by a state system which relies heavily on property taxes for local school funding. As a result, wealthier school districts with proportionately more property owners and more expensive real estate have more funds for schools. The result is great disparities in school system expenditures per student. In 2000, the Philadelphia school district spent $6,969 a year per student. Seventy percent of Philadelphia’s students are at or near the poverty line. This contrasts with expenditures per student in wealthier suburban school districts: Jenkintown, $12,076; Radnor, $13,288; and Upper Merion, $13,139.[19

Given the arc of this urban school serving children raised in poverty and aspiring to provide them with the tools needed to roll in college, one would hope that any tax legislation passed at the federal level would help provide equitable funding for the Philadelphia schools and provide sufficient revenues to address the issues that face urban schools— issues like drug addiction, the lack of before and after school programming, and support for parents struggling to make ends meet. As Mr. Smith notes in his article, the new tax code not only does nothing to help public schools, it works against them by encouraging affluent parents to enroll their children in private schools. And the new tax code not only does nothing to help address the needs of children raised in poverty, it diminishes the revenues available for those programs and, until the last stalemate, was not going to fund health care for those children. As I write this post, community health centers that serve poverty stricken areas are being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the budget.

By expanding the use of 529 savings plans for K-12 education, capping tax deductions for local and state taxes at $10,000, and slashing education spending at the state level in the 30+ states governed by the GOP, K-12 education will be starved for revenues and the funding formulas used to allocate funds will not have the marginal amounts needed to fund property-tax poor  school districts. It will, in effect, put all the schools in the nation in the same death spiral as Philadelphia schools encountered in the 1990s and 2000s.


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