Students in Philadelphia demonstrate against the turning of their school into a charter institution. The movement towards charter schools is promoted by the ruling class inside the United States., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Cuts to schools spur fightback
By Joseph Piette
Published Jun 1, 2011 5:16 PM
Hundreds of students marched around City Hall in Philadelphia the afternoon of May 25, chanting and waving colorful homemade signs. Speakers denounced plans to close all 13 accelerated high schools (AHS) in Philadelphia.
These contracted schools specialize in teaching overage, under-credit students who would otherwise be “push-outs” or dropouts. Only 57 percent of this city’s high school students graduate in four years. The AHS are likely the last opportunity to obtain high school diplomas for many youth.
Dozens of demonstrations against school cuts have taken place throughout the state in the last two months.
The May 25 protest took place as students, teachers, staff and parents demanded no cuts at a City Council hearing that lasted into the evening. Len Rieser, executive director of the Education Law Center, testified that the city’s school system is already underfunded by more than $4,000 per student, as shown in a 2007 Pennsylvania State Board of Education study.
Facing a $629 million deficit due to state and federal cuts, the school board is threatening to eliminate full-day kindergarten, student transportation and the AHS program, while increasing class sizes, unless the city comes up with $110 million in additional funding. These cuts would result in the elimination of 3,820 positions, or 16 percent of the district’s workforce.
Mayor Michael Nutter and the City Council are considering increasing the school district’s share of property tax revenue from 55 percent to 60 percent, forcing the city to make additional cuts in other city programs. Another option being considered is to raise taxes to provide more funding to the schools.
Philadelphia is not alone
Statewide, Pennsylvania’s threats of massive cuts to education total $1.5 billion. They include cuts of $38.6 million from Head Start, the pre-kindergarten programs Child Care Works and Pre-K Counts, and full-day kindergarten programs. About 7,000 children may lose their daycare services, according to the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. The budget also eliminates the total amount in state support, $6.3 million, to community-based family centers.
“We all know this is an assault on urban America and education by not just Pennsylvania, but state governments across [the country]. ... I think that we can’t allow Harrisburg [the state capital] or anybody else to play games with us. We need all the programs. We should have absolutely no cuts,” said Emmanuel Bussie in testimony before a Philadelphia City Council hearing on May 25. His 6-year-old daughter Elshadye accompanied him.
“We feel as though [Gov. Tom Corbett is] taking away too much money from schools and putting it into prisons,” said Shayla Johnson, a 17-year-old junior at West Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School. Corbett plans to increase funding of Pennsylvania’s prison system by $186 million. This is on top of the $685 million already being spent to build three new prisons and expand nine others, adding 5,343 beds to the state prison system.
Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus announced their opposition to the education cuts last week: “The governor’s budget would cut education spending, on average, by $819 for a low income student, by $867 for a Hispanic student, and $1,091 for a black student. The typical Caucasian student would experience only a $493 cut. Statewide, the average cut would be $623 per student.”
The cuts to public education are being made as unprecedented state funds to charter, private and parochial schools are being considered.
According to the Keystone State Education Coalition, a school voucher bill, SB1, now being debated, “is no longer a bill about poor kids trapped in violent or failing schools. It is a bill that will use public money to pay tuition for middle-class children who are already attending private or parochial schools.”
The Coalition explains, “Less than 8 percent of all vouchers are expected to go to kids from these 144 ‘failing schools.’ ... SB1 will create a two-tiered school system of public and private schools, with private schools choosing the children they want to educate using public money.”
Corbett plans to divert money earmarked for charters from all state school districts into an independently run “state charter authorizer,” which would manage charter funding centrally instead of through individual school districts.
Not surprisingly, “The charter school community embraces the opportunity to work with Gov. Corbett and the legislature,” said Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools president, Lawrence F. Jones Jr. “We support the Governor’s vision for education reform, even in the face of difficult fiscal times.” (http://phillyschoolsearch.com)
Workers pay more for less
While state and federal politicians brag about their opposition to tax increases, the tax burdens on working and poor families are being increased dramatically.
A statewide poll in April by the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that “all but a handful” of the state’s school districts are planning tax increases, while 88 percent were considering layoffs and 71 percent were planning to eliminate programs.
Meanwhile, Gov. Corbett’s budget includes $970 million in new tax breaks for corporations, according to the Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues. So many loopholes already exist that more than 70 percent of Pennsylvania corporations pay no state income tax at all, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The governor also refuses to touch a growing state revenue surplus of $700 million.
The funds do exist in this rich country to educate our youth. However, the money is in the hands of the rich. A mass movement is needed to take what is rightfully ours.
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