Philadelphia, PA, April 27 — Philadelphia teachers from both traditional public and charter schools gathered on Thursday evening to prepare for the upcoming primary election for Pennsylvania governor. Fair funding, local control of the school board, and teacher control over curriculum ranked high on teachers’ list of priorities as they considered the candidates’ education platforms.
After one billion dollars in cuts to the state education budget under Governor Corbett, Philadelphia teachers hope that Pennsylvania’s next governor will restore much-needed funding. “We’re stretched way too thin,” said one elementary school teacher. “We have to wear too many hats. We’re the teachers, the counselors, the nurses, the librarians, and now we have to be advocates for our students as well. We have to be the ones to speak up to get the resources they need.”
Teachers also voiced concern over governance by Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC), a body whose members are appointed by the governor and mayor rather than elected by Philadelphia voters. “Right now, it seems like the people making decisions are the people who know the least about the children in our schools,” said Pamela Roy, a veteran middle school teacher.
In addition to adequate funding and local governance, teachers stressed the importance of valuing teachers as professionals. “We’re looking for a candidate that acknowledges that teachers are professionals,” said teacher Susanna Terril. “I need the professional flexibility and autonomy to meet my students’ needs. And I can’t do that with a scripted curriculum.”
For many teachers, distinguishing among the four candidates for the Democratic nomination has been difficult. All four candidates have indicated that they are in favor of reversing Corbett’s funding cuts and replacing the SRC with a locally controlled school board. On the issue of teacher autonomy, teachers noted that Allyson Schwartz is the only candidate to address the role of teachers in educational decision-making. According to the education plan published on her campaign website, she plans to “engage teachers and leading educators on the decisions that impact teachers.”
“We’re really looking for someone who will consult with teachers about education policy,” said Chris Angelini, a teacher at an alternative high school in Philadelphia. “Most politicians make the decisions first and then consult with teachers afterward. We think it should be the other way around.”
The teachers met as part of a Teacher Voter Forum hosted by Teachers Lead Philly, a group of practicing teachers in Philadelphia. The mission of Teachers Lead Philly is to transform the teaching profession by engaging teachers in leadership at all levels.