Testimony of Deborah Grill to the Board of Education, September 19, 2019

As a former reading teacher I am well aware that background knowledge is important to reading comprehension, and I applaud your acknowledgment of it in attempt to provide it via Action Item #35.

Newsela is an online resource of predominately news articles. But news articles are not the only source of background knowledge. What about fiction? From fiction students can learn about emotions, relationships, aspirations, and as you explained in Item 33, the human condition and psychology. Of course a certified school librarian would be able to coordinate a print and online collection of fiction and non-fiction resources in a school library and work with teachers to meet the reading needs of all students. As I have said here before, research over the past 3 decades show a positive correlation between the existence of a quality school library program and reading achievement, especially in students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

I know it costs more to sustain school libraries that it does to provide a program like Newsela, but you can’t truly educate children on the cheap.

Items 41 through 47 are definitely one of the reasons the District is forced to cut corners. As Mr. Munson has said, charter school costs are the fastest growing expense in the District budget. Using the 2019 SDP Budget charter school allotments, these 7 schools will cost the District $88,324,724 for one year. Over 5 years (and I understand that allotments vary from year to year, but I am not clairvoyant, so I have to stick with the 2019 numbers) the cost will come to almost $500 million. That is for just 7 schools—7 schools which are still in the Intervene category in Academic Achievement on the latest SPR.

I am assuming the allotments figures don’t account for the stranded costs the District incurs when district students go to charters. There are 87 brick and mortar charter schools in Philadelphia. The cost to the District must be staggering. School libraries in healthy buildings are only one of the many resources district students have lost, in part, to charter tuition payments to brick and mortar charters as well as cyber charters.

As another round of applications for new charter schools and charter renewals begin, District parents as well, as the public, need to be made aware of the costs of additional charters and the renewal of those that haven’t performed anywhere near up to what was promised. They need to know how much money is diverted from their children’s classrooms and school buildings. They need to know one of the major reasons that their children don’t have quality school libraries, or any school library at all.