Fighting for Strong Schools

Dwight Evans’ mother taught him as a little boy to appreciate the value of a good education. As a result, the first job Dwight took after college was as a teacher in the Philadelphia public schools — and he’s been working to bring better education to our children ever since.

In 1981, Dwight started the Dwight Evans Career Days to bring professionals into the elementary schools across my legislative district to expose children to different careers. In that same year, Dwight also hosted a professional development luncheon for principals to find out ways to assist them. The annual luncheon has now grown into educational networking session called the Northwest Educators Roundtable and includes the higher education, charter schools, and independent officials.

In April 1997, Dwight introduced the City of Philadelphia School District Reform and Accountability Act (House Bill 1343) designed to revolutionize the Philadelphia School District. It reformed the district’s governance and management, strengthened accountability, improved teacher recruitment, and more. At that point, no one had ever introduced legislation that would fundamentally restructure the Philadelphia. Even though H.B. 1343 never passed the House, it did set the stage for the passage of the historic charter school bill in June of 1997. As a result, Philadelphia parents now have 86 additional options and other educational choices outside of the traditional public schools.

Dwight Evans will continue to work in Congress to support innovative efforts to expand educational opportunity. These are the kinds of educational initiatives the federal government can and must support and encourage:

Invest in every neighborhood school, making it a “community school.” Dwight Evans applauds the efforts of Mayor Jim Kenney to launch “community schools” in Philadelphia. Kenny plans to launch five to seven such schools over the summer, with as many as 25 in the next four years. Community schools have proven effective in numerous other cities. Community schools become a hub for the community, not just a place where kids go to learn a few hours a day for only a portion of the year, but also a place where families can find activities and other resources, including basic health supports, where adults can find opportunities to learn, as well, and place for connections – to jobs, to community organizations and concerns, to the Internet, and to the world beyond.

For example, Cincinnati Community Schools now offer a range of social, academic and economic “wraparound” services to help communities deal with pressing needs and free teachers to teach, instead of just manage crisis after crisis. Services include:

  • Computing and technology access
  • Tutoring
  • Translation and ESL services
  • Job opportunity and hiring centers
  • Dental and health clinics
  • Discounted school supplies and clothes

Cincinnati schools moved from academic emergency in 2001 to “academic watch” to “continuous improvement” to “effective” by 2010 – the only urban district in the state of Ohio with that distinction. Cincinnati’s public high school graduation rate climbed from 51 percent to 82 percent, and the achievement gap between African-American and white students was eliminated.

Expand health care centers in schools. We also need to increase the number of school based health centers nationwide, locating them at schools with the greatest needs. School Based Health Centers provide nurses, behavioral health practitioners, and health educators to provide needed information and services – including preventive care, routine exams, diagnosis and treatment of both episodic (like strep throat) and chronic illnesses (including asthma), immunizations, sexual/reproductive health education, and counseling – to keep students healthy.

Expand technology in schools. If education is about building our nation’s future, then we should be ensuring that it involves access to the technology that forms the basis for that future. Dwight Evans wants the federal government to:

  • Work with the private sector to ensure high-speed broadband Internet access for all teachers and students.
  • Make Internet-accessible computers available to every student and teacher.
  • Require states and schools receiving federal funds to more to replace textbooks with digital content, including interactive and adaptive media within the decade.
  • Push states to allow as many on-line classes as students want to take.
  • Provide support for teacher training in curricular use of technology.

Increase Community Technology Centers (CTC). Community technology provide people with free access to computers so that they can search the internet, send and download files, and take technology classes. We need to determine the neighborhoods where people tend to lack access to technology and work to locate such centers there. CTCs can be located in libraries, public housing computer labs, senior centers, community centers, and spaces dedicated to the CTC.

Repeal the “Prior Use” Restriction on Federal Tax Credits for Rehabilitation in order to facilitate modernization of historic school buildings. There are potentially 3,000 such projects in the country that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, all funded by private capital.

Fund Early Childhood Education. We need to expand pre-K and early childhood education in communities with struggling schools, with the long-term goal of guaranteeing universal pre-school for every child in the country.

Fund afterschool enrichment efforts, including sports and arts programs. Given the large number of annual dropouts (nearly half the number of students that graduate), as well as the pressure on teachers to improve scores, the incentive for students to remain in school is tenuous. A wider range of afternoon sports and arts programs will help more kids succeed and stay in school – and will keep them off the streets, out of gangs, and out of trouble.

Promote Kindergarten to College. Under this program, children entering kindergarten in San Francisco public schools are automatically given a College Savings Account containing a $50 deposit from the City and County of San Francisco. (Children enrolled in the National Student Lunch Program receive an additional $50 deposit.) Over 7,500 accounts were opened in the program’s first two years. This could be the next generation’s Social Security – but, because it invests for the future rather than consuming based on the past, much cheaper.