Penn Undermines Citizenry

Board of Education Testimony, January 27, 2022

by Phil Gentry

My name is Phil Gentry, and I am the parent of two children at Lea Elementary. The Board is being asked today to approve a deal with Penn to provide financial support to our school. 

News of this deal was announced to the Lea community just two weeks ago. We have been scrambling since then to make sense of what the deal contains, and what will be its consequences. Given the university’s egregious track record, why should we not assume that this investment, like all of its others, is designed to protect its interests and real estate values?  Like every school in the district, we need more resources and can’t afford to turn down any support. But what sort of relationship is it where a community can’t afford to say no? 

The very first line of the document you will presumably approve tonight reads that the partners “wish to emulate the success of the Penn Alexander School.” Nothing gives me more pause than the specter of emulating Penn Alexander. To do so would be a profound failure of policy. There is no mystery in how a school with Penn branding, extra money, special capped class sizes, the ability to send “high need” ESOL and special education students elsewhere, and a catchment full of wealthy parents, has good test scores. Which part of that “success” is the district hoping to emulate at Lea?

When Penn Alexander was created twenty years ago, there were many community meetings, at which many in the neighborhood pointed out that displacement and inequity would be the result. And that indeed came to pass. This time around, we don’t even have those meetings; the board is being asked to approve a deal that was apparently negotiated behind the back of those of us who live in the neighborhood and send our children to our neighborhood school. Since this is the only public opportunity we have, I’ll simply say for the record: letting wealthy private institutions choose which students in Philadelphia get a quality education undermines us all.