Adam Goldin | Philadelphia Blog

Adam Goldin covers Philadelphia news and updates.

Tag: school district

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Philly’s Soda Tax: Where Are We?

As we discussed before it was passed, Philly’s tax on sodas and other sugary beverages is an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: increasing the wealth of a city that has been struggling fiscally for some time, while biting into the consumption of unhealthy drinks. Making soda and presweetened teas more expensive, of course, doesn’t make healthy alternative beverage options any cheaper.

 

Soda beverage sales have halved since the beginning of 2017 when the tax was enacted. Regardless of one’s feelings on the soda industry, the tax is not helping it or related industries in the Philadelphia area. It’s possible that customers really hit by “sticker shock” have been shopping for sweet drinks in bulk outside of the city. Major area distributor Canada Dry Delaware Valley has stated its intent to cut its workforce by 20% in March, and an owner of six ShopRites has been quoted saying he intends to lay off 300 workers. Neither actually specializes in soda, however.

 

Mike Dunn, the city spokesman, said, “We have no way of knowing if their sales figures and predicted job losses are anything more than fear-mongering to prevent this from happening in other cities.”

 

The mayor was even harsher, saying, “I didn’t think it was possible for the soda industry to be any greedier… They are so committed to stopping this tax from spreading to other cities,” continued Mayor Kenney’s statement, “that they are not only passing the tax they should be paying onto their customer, they are actually willing to threaten working men and women’s jobs rather than marginally reduce their seven figure bonuses.”

 

Companies aren’t actually required to convey the highest cost of soda to their customers – the tax affects distributors, who could, if they wished, leave the shelf price of soda where they sell it unchanged. However, most Philadelphia outlets, it seems, are trying to make things up by raising their sugary drink prices in accordance with the extra cost they have to pay because of the tax.

 

It’s clear from the mayor’s statements that the idea of the tax was to affect companies without harming consumers. It’s early days yet, but this may have been unrealistically optimistic. It’s also true, however, that companies that are swallowing the cost of the tax without complaint are not going to make the news. The effect of these more noble businesses, if they exist, is only going to be apparent in a difference in long term figures.

 

It’s worth noting that if the prices of taxed drinks really didn’t change for consumers, there is no reason to assume that their purchasing habits and diets would be affected, either. In that case, why tax unhealthy drinks? If people’s health isn’t going to be affected in any short-term sense, the only apparent result is to punish the manufacturers and distributors

 

So far, these are threats and predictions. It’s unclear as yet how things will actually shake out. Philadelphia’s soda tax is among only a few similar actions that are acting as tests cases of ideas like it for the rest of the nation and world. This early in, it’s still time to wait and see what the longterm effects will be.

 

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Philadelphia Falls Behind In Bilingual Education, But There’s Still Hope

Philadelphia has a very diverse school district, 12 percent of which is made up of English learners. Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s school district is lagging behind in terms of bilingual education. The city has experimented with bilingual education for years and has recently seen a boost in enthusiasm for more comprehensive dual-language immersion programs. But due to political debates and shifts in state and federal priorities, maintaining and expanding these programs has been a difficult process.

 

The city of Philadelphia has struggled to embrace bilingual education with the same intensity that other cities with high numbers of English learners have. This is because unlike most other states, Pennsylvania has never set up a separate certification for teaching ESL (English for speakers of other languages). The certification exams are only administered in English, which limits hiring for bilingual programs, as teachers must be completely proficient in English, as well as their native language. As a result, it has become difficult to recruit a diverse a teacher force. District data shows that only 3 percent of teachers identify as Hispanic and 2 percent identify as Asian.

 

In South Philadelphia, there was a push by Spanish-speaking families for schools establish a dual-language immersion program, so that their children could maintain their mother tongue while also learning to become fluent in English by adulthood. In order to create a successful dual-language immersion program, the school must have a class made up of about half English-dominant students and half Spanish-dominant students. Some school districts have a large divide between English-dominant students and Spanish-dominant students, while other schools are much more blurred, with a number of Hispanic students who are English-dominant because they’ve been in the U.S. for a long time.

 

So what exactly is the history behind Philadelphia’s struggle to implement a sufficient program? Bilingual education models were introduced to Philadelphia in the early 1970s by a woman named Eleanor Sandstrom. Sandstrom shifted perspectives at the District level and believed in an additive model for bilingual education. This means that students were taught a second language while also maintaining their primary language and culture. She felt that foreign language abilities should be considered a resource. She received Title VII funding and opened up the Potter-Thomas Bilingual School, which was seen as a national model for bilingual education for decades. Despite all of these efforts, the Philadelphia School District was still falling short. In 1972, bilingual programs only reached half of the 9,000 Spanish-speaking students in Philadelphia.

 

Unfortunately, two years later, the Bilingual Education Act was revised. Federal funding could not be used for two-way immersion programs. In the 1980s, the national conversation surrounding bilingual education shifted toward an “English-only” movement. There were many federal initiatives that limited and ended a number of education programs in languages other than English. During this time, 50 percent of Philadelphia’s bilingual education personnel were fired and many bilingual programs were cut. Aside from the Potter-Thomas School, almost every program in Philadelphia shifted back to a transitional model.

 

Bilingual education started to make a comeback in the 1990s. However, most of the dual-language programs shifted to charter schools. In the last few years, things have begun to look up again. Now, funding for bilingual models is not coming from federal sources, and will therefore not be so drastically affected by shifts in the thinking of the federal government.

 

In the past, Philadelphia has reflected bilingual educations trends and in some cases has been a pioneer. Unfortunately, this is not the case currently, as Philadelphia is somewhat behind. The biggest challenge in the process is finding teachers. One obstacle is that a number of teachers who are certified in their home countries need to pass state certifications that are only conducted in English. This is frustrating given that many of the models include a Spanish teacher and an English teacher. In these models, the Spanish teacher doesn’t need to be proficient in English.

 

Still, educators and proponents of bilingual education in Philadelphia remain optimistic. The District is clearly committed to bilingual education, and the public has put a lot of support behind the movement. We will have to see whether topnotch bilingual programs can be implemented in Philadelphia in the next few years. If so, this could make a big difference and lead a number of children toward successful futures.

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Ridesharing and the Philly Battleground

When it comes to rideshare laws in Philly, it has been a rocky story. When Uber and Lyft were made legal, both companies were only given two-year experimental licences to operate in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Parking Authority had signed a deal with both the companies as part of the experimental licenses which, among other things, required them to pay 1 percent of their total earnings to the PPA. The PPA gave two-thirds of this amount to the Philadelphia School District and kept the remaining one-third to itself.

While still operating under the two-year license, taxi drivers in the city filed a lawsuit against the PPA, claiming that the protections and legal expectations for all of the city car services were not equal between ride-hailing services and the taxi or hired car services. Requirements like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which dictates all taxis have to adhere to certain accessibility guidelines, did not apply to ridesharing services. An injunction was filed against Uber and Lyft to prevent operation in the wake of the suit against the city. Though it made operation illegal, neither company seemed to be deterred by the injunction, which follows the trend established by Uber, when it began operation in Pennsylvania illegally at the start of it’s operation in PA.

The trend for rideshare companies has been, in many states, to keep operating, even when it isn’t legal. This creates a demand from the public that most city and state officials eventually give in to. Sure enough, PA Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill at the beginning of November to formally legalize Uber and Lyft with legislation permanently authorizing and regulating companies that operate as Uber and Lyft do.

We’ve seen this battle take place over and over again, in multiple cities. The biggest losers in these fights isn’t the rideshare companies, however, and it isn’t the cities or states. It’s the commonwealth. Users often rely on rideshare services to get to work when there are public transit failures or delays. Statistics show drops in cases of drunk driving in each city that correlate with arrival of Uber and/or Lyft. Those who cannot afford cars, or who have cars but cannot pay exorbitant parking fees, have options for emergencies or running errands that you don’t have when taking public transit.

It’s not just the customers who lose out, there are many who have found a continuous source of income in the form of these companies. Students say that they have found a strong earning source which has enabled them to repay their student loans and lead a comfortable lifestyle on the whole. Flexible scheduling allows drivers to work second jobs, be single parents, or go to school while maintaining an income. Immigrants who have language barriers or lack of relevant job experience in the US can make a living driving for rideshare companies.

Though the outcome favored rideshare companies in Philadelphia, cities like Austin still feel the sting.

Philadelphia Schools Funded by Soda Tax?

notebookThe state of Philadelphia’s school system has been tumultuous at best for years now. A constant struggle for funding that never seems to come through. Last month, school officials stated that were were taking into consideration the possibility of closing up to three schools a year to save money. This is following in the wake of the extended state budget impasse that concluded at the end of March with far less in school aid than most had anticipated.

According to thenotebook.org, a recent study from the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children & Youth reported findings in the district such as

  • Neighborhood high schools have had an average of four or more principals since 2009.
  • Neighborhood high schools have lost more teachers than any other school type, with 400 positions eliminated between 2010 and 2014.
  • Almost half of neighborhood high schools – nine – have no assistant principal.
  • More than half the neighborhood high schools’ counselors were laid off over four years, from a total of 91 in 2010 to just 35 in 2014.

All of these turnover and staffing issues lead right back to budget constraints, and they cause staff and principals to be overworked and stretched too thin to educate appropriately. When you’re a student in this environment there just isn’t much incentive to work hard or stay on track to graduate.

From The Philadelphia Tribune: “Lisa Haver, co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, told school officials she was “shocked” by the prospect of more school closures, especially after two dozen schools, among them Germantown High School and Edward T. Bok Technical School in South Philadelphia, were shuttered in the summer months of 2014. She made the comments during a School Reform Commission meeting this week. The SRC is a state-controlled commission that oversees city schools.”

Ever since the 2012 financial troubles for the city and state, Philadelphia schools have been working in crisis mode, day-to-day, with the school district never forming a cohesive plan for fixing the problem and moving forward toward recovery. School closures are disruptive to students and faculty, can be a financial and time strain on already burdened parents, and are tumultuous for neighborhoods.

School officials say that they are committed to reinstating full time positions like counselors, nurses, librarians, and music and art programs into elementary schools and ending split-classes (the practice of teaching two grades in one room.) even in spite of these cost cutting measures.

If you know even one teacher in Philadelphia, chances are you know someone who has had to pay for paper and pencils out of their own pocket, who has had to ask for money or donations to have books to read in an English class, who has had to look to crowdfund an empty science lab with supplies payed for by strangers on DonorsChoose.org, indiegogo.com, AdoptAClassrom.org or ClassWish.org.

The mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenny, opposed the idea of imposing a soda tax to fight childhood obesity when we was a city council member five years ago and the issue was brought before the city council. Now, as mayor, he has just this month suggested instituting the highest soda tax in the nation. The reason for this, he says, is not to improve public health, but to make money for the city. From Business Insider: “The policy would make a 20-ounce bottle of soda $0.60 more expensive for distributors, much of which could be passed on to consumers in the form of significantly higher prices. He estimates that the more-than-$400 million that could be raised via the tax in the next half decade would fund universal preschool and “allow the city to renovate a variety of its most vital public venues.”

While the funds are not even specifically directed at schools, but multiple areas of the city that are under-funded, this soda tax comes a little out of left field. It is unlikely that a tax as high as he is proposing will pass, and taxing soda not as a health and obesity campaign, but simply as a source of revenue for underfunded areas of the budget, seems a slippery slope that most will be unwilling to tread.

The state of Philadelphia’s school system has to rely on more than the potential to start taxing items at will. It requires a plan of action, with measurable goals, and a focused allocation of resources.

What do you think is the best move for the Philadelphia school district? Tweet at @AdamGoldin_!

 

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