Remarks at the release of “A Promise Worth Keeping: Addressing the High School Graduation Rate in Philadelphia” report, an update to 2006’s “Unfulfilled Promises” report. A Promise Worth Keeping, which was commissioned by Project U-Turn and its partners, updated the trends in graduation and drop-out rates in Philadelphia, including high-risk students like individuals involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems and female students who gave birth prior to or during high school.
Good afternoon and thank you all for coming.
I am thrilled for the release of “A Promise Worth Keeping: Addressing the High School Graduation Rate in Philadelphia”.
It not only shows the improvements that Philadelphia has made in graduation rates, but also outlines the need for continued, focused effort to increase those gains. As you know, it is an update to the 2006 report Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000-2005, which found that over the 2000-2005 period, only about half of the students entering high school graduated on time and that fewer than 60% of students graduated within six years.
It also looked at the graduation and dropout rates for different groups within the student population, including by race, ethnicity, gender and youth involvement in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. While the findings were disheartening, I also saw them as an opportunity. When I ran for Mayor, I made clear that improving educational outcomes would be a priority of my Administration.
During my first inaugural address I outlined two ambitious but attainable goals:
I’m proud to say that over the last 7 plus years, we’ve made progress on both goals – the college attainment rate in Philadelphia is nearly 26% and the graduation rate as of the 2013-2014 school year is 65%. The six-year graduation rate has also increased by 10 percentage points to 70% since 2007.
According to “A Promise Worth Keeping,” when you compare first-time freshman in the 2003-2004 school year to first-time freshman in the 2008-2009 school year, the number of dropouts decreased by 2,000 students.
That means that when those first-time freshman in 2008-2009 finished high to 36% by 2018; and school in 2012-2013, there were 2,000 more young people graduating. This progress is, in part, due to the great work done to address the dropout crisis and improve overall graduation rates by Project U-Turn, the School District, the City and education advocates and partners.
We launched the School District’s Re-engagement Center and accelerated high schools and offered additional services and educational supports to students through the City’s Department of Human Services and Department of Behavioral Health. And, these gains have been achieved despite insufficient public education funding during a time of profound change at the School District.
Today, our mantra and goal is to provide a high-quality education to every Philadelphia student. But it is difficult to do that when there is never enough money to invest in innovative and effective models and barely enough to provide a bare bones education. In recent years, the School District has made tough budget decisions, cutting more than 5,000 jobs, reducing administrative costs by more than 50% and closing 32 schools. And, the City has increased its local contribution by more than $360 million in annual recurring funding over the last five years. That is the largest five-year increase in local contribution over the last 30 years.
But, that still isn’t enough. We’ve been left with one guidance counselor to more than 1,000 students, a school nurse only two days a week, class sizes that are too large, cuts to art, music and sports programs. Our schools and students have suffered. Earlier this year, Dr. Hite requested $105 million in new funding from the City of Philadelphia. This funding would not only fill the District’s more than $80 million budget shortfall, it would make a significant investment in Action Plan 3.0, Dr. Hite’s bold new model for public education in Philadelphia.
In March, I proposed a property tax increase of 9.34%. It will generate enough money to fill the full funding request by Dr. Hite. And, it is the only funding plan on the table that creates a recurring, stable funding stream for the education of our young people that doesn’t hurt the City’s general fund balances or cut into City services. It is the only plan that doesn’t need state approval. And, it is the only plan that can be implemented for the budget that begins July 1.
For the typical homeowner, my proposed tax proposal amounts to a property tax increase of about $104 per year. It is less than $1 a day for 93% of Philadelphia homeowners. That means, for less than the cost of a large pizza once a month, the School District could hire back guidance counselors and nurses, reading specialists or assistant principals.
The new funding could be used for sports teams or art programs—activities that help students stay engaged with the school community and encourage good attendance and grades. And for schools that were forced to stop offering AP classes due to budget reasons, this funding could offer those courses again, allowing teachers to meet students where they are in the learning spectrum.
Our schools have made impressive strides with minimal funding – imagine what these kids could do with the funding they deserve.