In spite of social distancing practices, the consolidation of like-minded individuals around important causes seems to be as common as ever. Drexel Student Power Network is a student organization on campus. Its mission is to end social and economic injustices on campus and in Philadelphia, hold those in power accountable for their actions and spread a sense of political activism on campus.
As a progressive group of individuals who fight to bring change to Drexel’s campus through the collective power of its students, the organization held its virtual launch event via Zoom. This year, the event was in collaboration with Philadelphia Jobs with Justice on the project Payments in Lieu of Taxes.
Jobs With Justice Philadelphia is a local organization that seeks to work with labor unions, students and faith communities to promote better working conditions and circumstances for Philly employees. A recording of the event is available on the Jobs with Justice Facebook page.
A variety of speakers were present for the event and shared their insight on the crucial work that this initiative is hoping to accomplish. The list of speakers included Aden, a high school junior at Masterman; Tonya Bah, a parent activist; Keziah Ridgeway, a teacher at Northeast High School and Kendra Brooks, a councilmember-at-large and longtime organizer for education justice.
Each of them provided how their experiences and the broader landscape of Philadelphia — a city with a disproportionate amount of tax-exempt land — has yielded a system wherein many public institutions (especially Philadelphia Public Schools) have suffered.
The discovery of asbestos in the crumbling infrastructure of elementary classrooms, the stagnated salaries of teachers and the lower-than-average amount of funding allocated per student have indicated that finding a solution needs to take priority.
Many other cities have the similar issue of a nonprofit organization as a primary landowner, specifically Princeton (home to Princeton University), New Haven (Yale), and Cambridge (Harvard). These cities have developed a program wherein some of the funds, lost from the taxes that the organization would have paid, are otherwise recouped. Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes allows these entities to essentially pay back a portion of the amount they would have been taxed back to the state without losing their nonprofit status.
The PILOTs program specifically has facilitated this funneling of funds to each of these cities’ public schools, which leaves the question: why Philadelphia has not adopted a similar approach?
What Drexel Student Power Network aims to do is establish a research team that will investigate the extent to which forgone taxes are proving detrimental to the Philadelphia School District. In conjunction with additional teams of parents, students, educators and concerned community members, DSPN and Jobs with Justice are advocating in favor of this PILOTs policy, which will supplement funding for the city’s schools.
If Drexel students are interested in becoming a part of this research or would like to be connected with Jobs with Justice directly, they can reach out to Uswa Mutaal, the president of Drexel Student Power Network.