Roebuck defends position on education, gentrification

The old West Philadelphia High School will soon be converted to mixed-income housing.

Veteran State Rep. James Roebuck Jr., following a primary election-day victory over challenger Algernong Allen, visited the Tribune recently to restate his positions on education and gentrification in response to a Tribune editorial that suggested he has become less visible over the years.

Roebuck, chairman of the House Education Committee, pointed to his recent and long-term track record as proof that he is doing the people’s work — and doing it where it counts most: in their homes, neighborhoods and everyday lives.

Roebuck first discussed the relationship between the six colleges and universities in his west/southwest district, and how he is facilitating a better form of synergy between the two entities.

“One of the things I’ve tried to do is make the universities, which define in part what the area now calls itself as University City, have a sense of responsibility in terms of the stability, viability and diversity of the community,” Roebuck said. “The reality is, I have six universities in my district, and everyone tends to focus on the University of Pennsylvania. But they all have a responsibility to the community in terms of the way they interact, and some do a better job than others.

“But the presence of these schools also links them to the public school system and making sure that resources go into the local public schools so they become stronger,” Roebuck continued. “It’s that kind of involvement that I have promoted — using universities as a better resource to help young people better understand how to best chose a career.”

Roebuck has been active on education opportunity issues, having authored a pair of bills in March related to Advanced Placement courses. The first bill provided access to Advanced Placement courses for all public school students in Pennsylvania, and the second bill would require public institutions of higher education to award academic credit to postsecondary students who have obtained an Advanced Placement exam score of at least three.

According to Roebucks’ office, the first bill will provide funding to train teachers to teach Advanced Placement courses in those high schools that do not have Advanced Placement courses in the four core academic areas of English, mathematics, science and social sciences, and for those high schools where a teacher retirement will result in the high school no longer having a teacher in one of these Advanced Placement courses. The College Board estimates that 60 percent of Advance Placement teachers will retire in the next 10 years.

The second bill is needed to ensure that the students who take Advanced Placement courses and do well on the exams are not denied college course credits by public higher education institutions, including community colleges and Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities. Independent and state-related institutions may award college academic credit to students for scoring three or more on Advanced Placement exams. This could mean significant savings in college costs for the families of these students. Another benefit to both the state and parents would be the increased likelihood that these students would graduate on time and not have to seek further Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants or loans to finish college.

Roebuck noted he has also taken Gov. Tom Corbett to task for budget cuts to public education.

“Republicans have chosen to pass a ‘Frackers First’ budget that keeps most of their roughly $1 billion in K-12 education cuts from 2011, instead of passing a fair gas-drilling tax and accepting the federal funds Pennsylvania would get by accepting a clean Medicaid expansion,” Roebuck said. “I, and other Democrats in Harrisburg, have been advocating for common-sense solutions that have bipartisan support and support from a majority of the public — but Governor Corbett and most Republican legislators have chosen the wrong direction again.

“Republicans have added to this outrage by demanding Democratic votes for terrible ideas their own colleagues rejected — not to provide Philadelphia schools with a restoration of the state revenue they deserve, but merely to let us raise our own local money through a cigarette tax.”

Housing, Roebuck said, is also of great importance to his agenda, and often ties into gentrification and the role of encroaching universities.

“Housing is a real issue in terms of the fact that housing values are going up, and have been going up for years. We need to make sure that as we do transitional things with new housing, we make sure it’s diverse,” Roebuck said. The “West Philadelphia High School site is a prime example of that, as there is a project right now to convert the school into housing units that I would hope have rents that more people can afford.”

Roebuck beat Allen in 63 of the 64 divisions and sits on the board of more than three dozen community organizations.


Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or

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