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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

Credit: Ilana Wurman

Sixteen years after taking control of the Philadelphia school district, the state government has officially decided to return power to the local government by the end of this June. 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the move last month after gaining approval from Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera.

According to the Philly Voice, in 2001 Pennsylvania’s secretary of education placed the district under control of the five-member School Reform Commission, of which three members were selected by the governor and two by the city's mayor, after declaring it financially distressed.

This decision elicited criticism from Philadelphia teachers and public education activists, who felt that the takeover was undemocratic and would place too much power in the hands of outsiders. When the panel allowed 38 Philadelphia schools to be privatized in 2002 — a move seen by some as a failed experiment — greater backlash arose against state control.

Thirteen years later in 2015, only 11 percent of Philadelphians felt that the SRC should be allowed to retain power over the city’s schools, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. That same year, voters showed their desire for local control of the district through a non-binding referendum.

Following recent pushes from an increasingly powerful teachers' union and mayor Jim Kenney, the SRC voted to disband itself last November.

This month, Kenney will appoint a panel of high-ranking city officials to nominate 27 candidates to the city’s Board of Education. Ultimately, Kenney will pick nine school board members to direct education policy.

As the board replaces the SRC, effective July 1, the city plans to take on a large chunk of the projected $1 billion deficit that the school district will face, which could mean an increase in property taxes for Philadelphia residents.

“With a return to local control, the people of Philadelphia will finally be able to hold one person accountable for their school system, the mayor,” Kenney wrote in a letter to the public.

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