Philly is closing down public schools – and building jails

Why Philly schools are in crisis

Yes, it’s true Philadelphia schools are in crisis, one so severe the district is scheduled to be completely shut down in two years. Salon tells us

To be clear, the schools are in crisis because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refuses to fund them adequately. The state Constitution mandates that the Legislature “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education,” but that language appears to be considered some kind of sick joke at the state capital in Harrisburg.

It’s worth noting that the state itself runs the Philadelphia School District after a 2001 takeover. The state is also responsible for catastrophic budget cuts two years ago that crippled the district’s finances. And in a diabolical example of circular logic, the state argues that the red ink it imposed, and shoddy management it oversees, are proof that the district can’t manage its finances or its mission and therefore shouldn’t get more money … The pattern has become clear: defund the schools, precipitate a crisis and use that as an excuse to further attack the schools, pushing them closer and closer to a point of no return … (In May, the Superintendant) laid off nearly 4,000 teachers and staff members, and closed 24 schools, after the district had shut eight the year before … (Helen Gym of the advocacy group Parents United for Public Schools says) “It’s an absolute atrocious mockery of anything related to public leadership. To not have a stable public school system is more devastating to Philadelphia than anything that has happened before.”

Other communities are headed down the same road

chained doorIn northern NJ where I live, Mayor Cory Booker’s neglected Newark is heading in the same direction as Philly. 10 public schools were closed in 2011 with the planned closing of 12 more suspended temporarily because Cory’s political advisors understood this move wouldn’t look good while his campaign for federal senator was in full swing. Cory and Best Friend Gov. Chris Christie are enthusiastic supporters of the construction of a multiple charter school compound in downtown Newark called Teacher’s Village, where teachers will live, shop and eat out as well as work. The idea for the compound seems to be the sequestration of charter school students and teachers away from other Newark residents. There are many out-of-towners in each group.

Last year, Chicago closed 50 public schools.

Why charter schools are often no upgrade

Jay McClung of Digital Journal has a lot to say about Philly public schools being replaced by charter schools. Some of the charters have failing academic records or are run by people with shady financial or administrative backgrounds. All of the corporate affiliated charters siphon taxpayer funds away from public schools and student education, with a good portion of the money ending up in the pockets of private servicing companies and wealthy founders.

Although the (Philly) school district continues to have financial and academic trouble year after year, the finger pointing halts at the State of Pennsylvania. After taking control of the district in 2001, the state has not fixed any of the problems in Philadelphia; allowing the current situation to spread like a virus. Jerusah O. Conner is an education professor at Villanova University and is an expert on the Philadelphia school district. In a recent interview, Professor Conner said that the state shoulders much of the blame for the district’s problems. “Pennsylvania ranks 8th lowest in the country, spending only 35.8 percent on education. Were it not for the deliberate underinvestment and disinvestment in Philadelphia schools by the state, the district could easily be enjoying a multibillion dollar surplus instead of a deficit.”

Education experts, like Professor Conner, say that Corbett has an agenda for Philadelphia and that plan, apparently, is to strangle the life out of the struggling district … Parents are starting to move their children away from the nearly extinct public schools by enrolling them in charter schools and virtual charter schools. The problem with this equation is academics and money. A Stanford study found students at 100 percent of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters performed significantly lower than the peers at traditional schools. Five Pennsylvania cyber charters receive $200 million in tax money each year to produce unacceptable results.

Daniel Denvir says, “For reasons that aren’t clear, millions of dollars have moved between the network of charter schools, their parent nonprofit, and two property-management entities. The School District is charged with overseeing city charters but ‘does not have the power or access to the financial records of the parent organization.’” This is how companies like Aspira Inc. are draining the life out of Philadelphia schools.

So, what’s PA’s governor doing to protect quality of education for Philly’s public school students? Absolutely nothing: Corbett makes no bones about his intention to fully destroy educational opportunities for the 80% disadvantaged youth population the Philly School District serves. What’s going to happen to the children in these schools, whose education will soon be turned over to charter schools not required to prove that the taxpayer dollars which fund them are actually spent on educating students … which will operate without either the parents or the community supply their funding having any opportunity to control spending or monitor academic achievement? Digital Journal recounts:

The governor-appointed School Reform Commission (SRC) … stated that SRC plans to, “close 40 schools next year and an additional six every year thereafter until 2017 … Adding more fuel to the fire, Governor Corbett is now backing legislation that will dramatically decrease charter oversight, reduce local control, extend the charter period from 5 years to 10 years, and grant automatic charter renewals.

It’s all about the money, honey

education-vs-incarcerationIt’s time that America understand we’re being sold a bill of goods. Young people have become just another commodity for the wealthy to trade in the futures of – like coffee or pork belly. There are easily revealed links connecting poverty, lack of quality education and incarceration. In the United States we keep almost 1% of our population in jail. Incarceration costs US taxpayers three times what education does, yet while it drains resources away from some communities, it is highly profitable to others (from Digital Journal article):

At the end of the last budget year, the state of Pennsylvania had a modest surplus but Governor Corbett chose to allocate money towards building new prisons.

The National Education and Social Rights Initiative tells us,

We know that the very best way to prevent future incarceration is to invest on the front end in providing excellent educational opportunities for children. A 2007 study estimated that the U.S. could save $209,000 in prison and other costs for every potential dropout who could be supported to complete high school.

and recommends,

We have arrived at a historical moment where the massive expansion of the U.S. prison population has become increasingly expensive for states and localities … For years, we have made the moral case for prison “reform” or abolition and still the numbers of black and brown bodies behind bars continue to increase unabated. Now that our federal, state, and local governments are implementing fiscal austerity measures, we need to advocate loudly that the supposedly limited available resources be invested in educating our community members as opposed to caging them. The group in our society that most understands this are our youth. They have created youth-led organizations and initiatives such as Books Not Bars and they have also produced short films on this topic. We should heed their calls. This is our time to close prisons and to focus instead on educating our children.


New Jersey gubernatorial candidate (State Senator) Barbara Buono, incidentally, believes in the public education system that educated her and plans to strengthen both K-12 and higher ed systems.

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