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Issue Brief: School District Portfolio Management

In Philadelphia, an ambitious effort to restructure the district has been proposed. The draft Blueprint for Reforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, released in April 2012, sets two distinct goals: 1) Safe, high-performing schools district-wide; and 2) The elimination of a more than $200 million budget deficit by 2014. The plan proposes to address the deficit through renegotiated contracts, increased city funding, and operational efficiencies. Like the district’s reforms in the 2000s, the plan also emphasizes significant decentralization of district authority to external managers. But while the reforms a decade ago kept a solid majority of public schools under traditional district management, the current blueprint has the potential to impact every school. The proposed restructuring plan draws explicitly on the portfolio management design of school governance, which emphasizes market principles, expanded choice, and a sparse central management unit atop diverse, semi-autonomous networks of schools. Resources are redirected from under-enrolled or low-achieving schools toward higher-performing or improving schools through the increased use of school choice and closure policies. Based on RFA’s research on Philadelphia’s prior experience with governance changes and diverse providers, the experiences of other districts, and an examination of the relevant literature, key considerations include funding, management capacity, accountability, choice and equity, and politics. The purpose of this brief is to inform Philadelphia’s education community, policymakers, and stakeholders as these discussions move forward.