School District Forced to Scale Back Summer School
Two weeks ago, Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman urged City Council to give $21 million to the school district’s Summer Learning And More (SLAM) program, a summer school for failing students that doubles as a summer camp for kids interested in art, music or sports.
But last week, when Council voted on how much the district would get this year, SLAM’s funding was cut by $5 million, down to $18 million. Some council members, including Bill Green and James F. Kenney, said they refused to fund SLAM because they considered it an “extra.”
“[The school district] wasn’t able to demonstrate from the data they provided that the program was efficacious,” Green says. “It’s not a question of ‘Hey, if we have extra money should we have a summer SLAM program. It’s a question of, when you have to choose between that and a bus service, even the parents of the summer SLAM kids are gonna choose the bus service. Governing is choosing between competing ideas for a cut of limited resources.”
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Teachers Union, isn’t happy to see the program go. “There is a body of research that indicates that, [when] children are out of school during the summer, there is a slide in the level of knowledge that students retain,” he says.
Ackerman’s camp agrees. “Summer SLAM is a program Arlene Ackerman started and it’s something she feels very passionate about,” Philadelphia School District Spokesperson Sheena Kemp says. “As we’ve just announced a couple days ago, we’ve had nine straight years of gains. We have to do all we can to maintain those gains. Summer SLAM helps to do that.”
But to deal with the cuts, the district has had to reduce the length of the summer program from 21 days to 18 and also reduce the number of students enrolled from 39,000 to 30,000. Currently, 28,000 students have already registered for the program, which runs July 5-23, Philadelphia School District Spokesman Elizabeth Childs says.
The district hopes that the number of students who failed a course and need make-up credits will be fewer than 2,000. “Though we expect to serve all students who wish to participate, in the event there is a significant number of students who need summer classes to remain on track to graduate, those students would receive preference,” Childs says.
But TaiMarie Adams, education policy director for nonprofit advocacy group Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, is worried about the damage rolling back enrichment programs might cause. “Summer programs raise student achievement, and we know that students who participate in these programs do better over the following school year.” She says the state surplus could be used to help public schools save programs like SLAM.
According to the Inquirer, a deal was struck in the state legislature that would put $269 million of that surplus toward public schools, $22 million of which will go to Philadelphia.
Even so, Childs says the district is forced to put basics before summer enrichment. “Our priorities are for restoring transportation, reduced class size initiatives, early childhood education and alternative schools.”