For over a century, Pittsburgh required its police officers to live within city limits. That changed last May when a court sided with the Fraternal Order of Police and ruled that place of residence is a “working condition” subject to collective bargaining. Police can now live outside the city, provided they are within 25 miles of downtown Pittsburgh.  

In the past year, nearly a quarter of Pittsburgh’s police force has moved out of  the city—and according to Pittsburgh police union president, they’re leaving for better schools.

“A lot of our officers did move primarily for children because they wanted to put them in a good school district.”

Sadly, I’m not surprised. After all, the majority of Pittsburgh Public School teachers—who successfully lobbied Harrisburg to lift their residency requirement back in 2001— live outside the city, as well.  

While it’s a shame that police officers and teachers feel the need to leave Pittsburgh in order to give their children a quality education, the people who truly deserve our concern are the families trapped in failing schools who have no way out. It’s not a residency requirement that’s holding them hostage, but rather a public education system that assigns our children to schools based on their home address.

The fact that Pittsburgh Public Schools is failing to provide a quality education to so many children is obvious to our teachers, our police and the thousands of families that have fled to the suburbs for better schools. However, our elected officials show no urgency to address the crisis. Rather, our mayor told reporters the loss of police officers’ tax dollars will have “minimal” impact on the city budget. To view the loss of Pittsburgh residents and their children only in terms of tax dollars, is incredibly short-sighted.

When will we realize that the future of Pittsburgh is already here?

It’s ironic: the city’s leadership is desperately trying to grow Pittsburgh’s population and reverse decades of population loss by marketing the city to millenials and wooing new industry (think Amazon HQ2), and yet they’re neglecting the children and families who already live here by accepting an abysmal status quo for public education.

The families I worry about don’t have the means to go shopping for a new zip code within a higher-performing school district, but must send their children to their zoned neighborhood school regardless of the quality of education. Despite spending more than $24,000 per student (more than 96 percent of all schools districts in Pennsylvania), 78 percent of Pittsburgh Public School students attend a low-performing school as defined by the state’s accountability system. How would you feel about sending your child to a school like Pittsburgh King K-8, where not a single eighth grader passed the state math exam. Or a school like Westinghouse 6-12, where only 6 percent of ninth graders will go on to earn a college degree?

No parent should be put in this position.

When will we realize that the future of Pittsburgh is already here? They are the 24,000 students sitting in classrooms right now, trusting the adults in charge to prepare them for success in college, career and life. If we don’t act with urgency to improve our schools, far too many of these children will be left out of the new economy that Pittsburgh’s leaders are trying so hard to build.

These children deserve access to the same quality school options that the Pittsburgh police now have the freedom to choose.

Rachel is the Executive Director of Policy at PennCAN.


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