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In his first “State of the Schools” address, Superintendent Tony Watlington said public schools are important because they help “build the middle class.”
“I hear President Joseph Biden talk all the time about the unions’ role in building the middle class,” Watlington said. “ Our teachers, principals and all the school folks help to build the world’s strongest military and the world’s largest economy.”
Improving Pa.’s largest school district
Last year, the Philadelphia School District, Pennsylvania’s largest district and the eighth largest nationwide, made progress in improving student and teacher attendance, increasing its graduation rates and reducing its dropout rate. It has about 197,000 students.
“Our job in this district is to prepare students for any future that they can realize and imagine,” Watlington said. My charge is to make sure that we do everything in our power as a staff to achieve the board’s very lofty goals and guardrails, and position our district to be the fastest-improving large urban school district in the country.”
Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington gave the first ever State of Public Education address at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts on January 30, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
In 2022, Watlington promoted a $70 million curriculum upgrade. In July of that year, the Board of Education also approved the district’s Accelerate Philly, a five-year strategic plan focusing on safety and security, greater partnerships with school communities and improving academics.
As a result, the district is replacing analog cameras at 150 schools and hired a new security chief, Craig Johnson, who was the deputy of now-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel. Currently, the district is preparing its students for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card.
Kathryn Epps Roberson, president and CEO of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, said the organization has set a goal to raise $40 million for the SDP by 2028, at the State of Publication Education address on January 30, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
Preparing for the end of pandemic-era funding
When federal pandemic relief funds expire in September, the district’s $4.5 million budget will lose $1.2 million. Without any new money, the district projects a deficit of more than $400 million, Watlington said.
His address came days before Gov. Josh Shapiro’s annual budget address on Feb. 6.
In December, Pennsylvania finalized a budget championed by Shapiro. It includes $567 million in basic education funding and $175 million for improving school facilities statewide, along with funding for free breakfast for 1.7 million school students across the state.