So much effort has been expended on the City of Harrisburg's financial situation that the plight of the school district seems to be an afterthought.
But make no mistake. If tomorrow the city suddenly cleared its obligations, balanced the budget and had a healthy reserve in the bank, its future still would be at risk if the schools aren't fixed.
Just as the city has its receiver and its "Harrisburg Strong Plan," the school district has a state-appointed chief recovery officer and a recovery plan. That plan has two goals — financial stability and improved academics.
HSD spends more per pupil than the state average, yet graduation rates and standardized test scores rank near the bottom among the commonwealth's 500 school districts. The conundrum is how to make that spending more effective. Is it more technology, paying for better teachers or more teachers, or perhaps incentives to students to get them more invested in their own education?
Or is it something money alone can't buy — such as more engagement from the community and businesses?
The Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation is taking a lesson from a successful program initiated by the Lancaster Education Foundation a decade ago that gets businesses more involved in its schools. "Adopt A Harrisburg Classroom" will allow donors — for $500 a year — to support education on a small scale so they can see exactly where their money is going and why.
A twist Harrisburg is putting on the program is the opportunity for donors to work with their classrooms' teachers to decide how the money is used.
The benefits to both are numerous. Schools using some form of the program in other places have found that "adopting" a classroom extends beyond writing a check and getting a thank-you back from the students and teacher.
Donors tend to become intimately acquainted with the issues facing the educational system, making them more effective voices in shaping a district's mission and operations. Students make connections between their education and work world as well as see that future employers care about their success.
The efforts to bring more professionals into the city are taking it in the right direction. But until residents feel confident that they want to raise and educate their children in Harrisburg, that will never yield the desired result — a stable, more robust tax base.
Adopt A Harrisburg Classroom may seem like a negligible investment, but the returns could last a lifetime.