Philadelphia Needs an Education Equity Fund
In 2018, students at Cassidy Elementary School were hanging their backpacks and storing their lunches in a classroom closet that was later found to have asbestos fibers at a level “50 times higher than the highest result for settled asbestos dust found indoors in apartments near ground zero after the 9/11 terror attacks,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. While this is incredibly alarming, it’s nothing new. Elementary school students have died at schools with no nurses, and at least one student has been hospitalized for severe lead poisoning. These revelations about the toxic state of our public school buildings come on the heels of mass school closures and severe staffing shortages following a precipitous drop in our public school funding in 2013.
Why is the Philadelphia School District so underfunded?
The answer is complex, but a key reason is that the state-wide funding formula ties school funding to property taxes, and Philadelphia has an extraordinary amount of tax-exempt land, much of which is owned by multi-million dollar non profits. Because of their nonprofit status, many of our city’s wealthiest institutions aren’t required to pay property taxes that would otherwise fund public schools. For example, the University of Pennsylvania is the largest private landowner in the entire city, amounting to many millions of dollars per year in foregone revenue for the school district.
What can we do about it?
Most of this country’s wealthiest universities have recognized this as a significant problem, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Their solution? Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs), an agreement between major nonprofits and the city to pay a portion of those lost taxes without compromising nonprofit status. This is a commonsense solution for a city like Philadelphia, where public schools are facing an acute crisis because of a tax system rigged in favor of the wealthy.
To make up for some of this missing funding from wealthy non-profits, we’re demanding that our city’s mega-nonprofits, like Penn, Drexel, and Jefferson, pay 40% of the value of foregone property taxes to an Education Equity Fund.
In May, we launched a campaign to demand that our city’s wealthiest institutions invest in our public schools. We’re calling on these multi-million and multi-billion dollar nonprofits to pay 40% of the value of their foregone taxes to a Philadelphia Education Equity Fund. Click on the video below to watch our virtual speak out!
We believe that the key to power in this fight is building solidarities between institutional stakeholders, like employees, students, and alumni, directly impacted community members. Public school families, teachers, and neighborhood leaders are best positioned to identify the harm that is being done to their communities, and direct stakeholders at each mega-nonprofit are best positioned to leverage their institutional power to demand concrete changes. We believe that as community leaders develop their skills, make strategic decisions, and win big victories, they will be developing the infrastructure for broader change in our economy.
Are you ready to fight for our public schools? Send us a message below to get connected to an Action Team!