Monday, April 02, 2007

Put the brakes on the Pittsburgh Promise -- voices from educational advocates

Please see below for my thoughts on City Council’s activities around the Pittsburgh Promise. I urge you to get involved to stop this program from proceeding until it has been defined beyond a press release. Please contact your city councilperson to express your thoughts, even if they’re not in consonance with my position.

Thanks, Salvador Wilcox, CEO, Education Innovations, Inc.
6435 Frankstown Ave., 2nd Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
412.661.8751 ext. 150

Please table Pittsburgh Promise resolutions and hold public hearings

Bill and Lenny,

(I don’t have the emails to the other City Council Persons, so could you forward this to them, please.)

I’m writing you to request that bill relating to the Pittsburgh Promise be tabled until such a time that:

1. public hearings are had to discuss the merits of the program; and

2. the program is actually designed and goes beyond a press release released by a mayor running for office and a superintendent who has yet to prove any of his programs actually work

I have many concerns.

1. A solution follows from the problem it tries to solve. In this case, since the solution is money for college, the problem would be defined as a lack of resources to pay for college. However, that is not the problem in Pittsburgh. At least not the primary problem. The problem is that we don’t have enough kids who graduate or get accepted into college. The Pittsburgh Promise does not solve that problem. And the programs that supposedly solve them are yet to be proven. By giving to this hollow promise, we do not focus on the achievement problem.

2. When the Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools complains of financial stress, it is not a time to be adding another bloated program to the already bloated bureaucracy. The City and the School District should be looking for revenues to bring the school district back to financial health. Aside from adding more staff to the District, no other details have really been thought out. Neither big business nor the foundation community in Pittsburgh is running to support this. We should ask why before we appeal to good nature of tax payers to give to a program which has yet to detail how the money would be spent.

3. The school district is in as bad shape, in part, to a historical and continued overstaffing in the administration level. It took decades to address the decline in population. It took decades to close buildings. It has not sufficiently addressed uncontrolled changes in work orders. It is paying for two Deputy Superintendents of Instruction, one of which does no work for the District.

4. It seems unfair that the District, who already receives nearly ½ Billion dollars per year in tax revenues should dip into tax-payers good will again. Especially since it has yet to actually prove that it can educate the majority of our minority population. There are many other organizations that actually do provide results. Council could start with a charter school fund to introduce more competition for the District. Charter schools and charter applicants have been orphaned by foundation’s support of only the superintendent. A charter school fund would bring about innovation in the district. Philadelphia has embraced public schools and Pittsburgh should also. In Philadelphia, charter schools boost the District’s average achievement!

5. The District has not released any details on how children will qualify for the scholarship, nor how much children will get. The school district has not analyzed what the overhead for this program will be. If the financial health of the district is any indication, I’m not convinced that the District can handle such a large program. If the intent is true, perhaps a local foundation like the Pittsburgh Foundation would be better able to handle the program.

6. Charter high school students are in spirit and in law, Pittsburgh Public School students. They should not be left out of the program. So far, no indication has been made about their participation. If the District is allowed to have a tear-off coupon but excludes charter school students, then tax-payers should also be given the option to designate their funds to a particular charter school, or a general charter school graduation fund.

The idea in principle is a good one, though the problem to access to higher education seems to me lack of academic skills and not a lack of resources to pay for college. Were that we had so many students accepted to college with no means to pay for it.

Since the details have not been developed and since no time line has been given for those details, surely we should be apprehensive about passing City Council resolutions blindly.

Salvador Wilcox

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