Friday, August 16, 2013

Philadelphia Schools Countdown to Opening Day Chaos

FATE OF SCHOOLS OF PHILADELPHIA, 5TH LARGEST U.S. CITY, HANG IN BALANCE

*Scroll down for postscript updates
Pennsylvania, the hallmark state for bogus cyber schools, no wonder: Diane Ravitch's blog reports that "ALEC Has a Stranglehold on Pennsylvania Legislature," is now the site of an unfolding public school debacle that rivals Chicago for "disruptive innovation" in education with 23 schools closed this spring and over three thousand school staff dismissed.

The unfolding drama is only expected to escalate as the month of August winds on toward   the scheduled opening of Philadelphia public schools, so keep posted to the notebook blog and WHYY's Newsworks.

Thursday night the site reported that hundreds of teachers, students and parents jeered and denounced the state's "School Reform Commission," when it resolved to suspend parts of the Pennsylvania School Code. The SRC is now overseeing the district in echoes of state takeovers --brazen contempt for democracy, never used against middle or upper-class districts-- in Michigan and New Jersey, is seeking to resolve the budget crisis on the back of teachers, insisting that seniority rules be abandoned. (We now see this happening in Buffalo, New York, as that state's education commissioner, John King, is seeking the ability for a state takeover of the district.) Notice that the teachers are wearing red, the color of resistance against plutocratic municipal misrule, the color worn by Chicago teachers, New York City's MORE caucus and now the Anybody But Quinn group.

Thursday the site posted news of reprieves offered in dueling $50 million plans by mayor Michael Nutter and the city council. While the extra funds address the figure superintendent Dr. William Hite sought, activists have said that the figure is not sufficient. Activists have been wondering if the schools could open and operate safely. And not all the lost employees would be reinstated.

Tuesday had news that activists were resuming a hunger strike. The activists have been fasting because they contend that the city is short of $270 million that the school district needs to run the schools safely and effectively. Watch this NBC affiliate story on "Fast for Safe Schools" protests.
A significant update is by Joy Resmovits, "Philadelphia Schools Should Remain Closed Until Fully Funded, Some Parents Say" at the Huffington Post, August 12, 2013.

Watch this well-produced video (linked at right of this blog page) giving an excellent overview of the status of the teachers and other school staff, Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network, "Philadelphia Slashes Schools Budget While State Spends $400 Million on New Prisons."

The city's budget cuts in June triggered layoffs of hundreds of teachers, assistant principals, counselors and school aides.

AUSTERITY AMIDST LARGESSE FOR PRISONS
Yet, the prison construction boost of $400 million dollars if redirected to education would greatly exceed the $130 million that city of Philadelphia is seeking from school related unions, such as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and UNITE HERE. And with the school department's budget shortfall of $304 million, that $400 million would more than close the education budget gap. News in recent days has Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett continuing to play extortion games, threatening to withhold a $45 million grant unless the Philadelphia Federation of teachers makes concessions.

Key active partners from the labor and community side are Parents United for Public Education, Teacher Action Group, rank and file members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the new teacher and community group, Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, or PCAPS.

Essential overviews of the situation may be found in the Truth-org article by Andrew Elrod, "Citizens and Teachers Resist Massive Public School Closures in Philadelphia." July 25, 2013 and in "For laid-off Philly teachers it's a mix of waiting, hoping and leaving" by Kelly Lawler at Newsworks, July 11, 2013.

DEVELOPING WORLD PRACTICE REACHING AMERICA'S URBAN SCHOOLS
In the developing world it is commonplace to charge parents for tuition or books for public schoolchildren. The Notebook reports that solicitation of private funds for public schools is becoming a trend: "Seeking private funds for public schools becoming an 'unfortunate' trend."

One principal, Dan Lazar of Greenfield Elementary, last week emailed parents, seeking $613 per parent for school operations.

University of Massachusetts economics professor Robert Pollin (of the Political Economy Research Institute, PERI) stated that public education is a tremendous jobs stimulator for the economy, as he says in the video cited above and this American Manufacturing.org site. Thus, this debunks the logic of the conservative and neo-liberal argument that austerity cuts are good for the economy.

UNION CITY, NEW JERSEY A POSSIBLE MODEL FOR PHILADELPHIA
Union City, New Jersey schools have been a success, even touted in the mainstream press. Buried toward the back of articles is the ticket: funding. Note this passage from a Nation story on how a court ruling forced the state of New Jersey to funnel financial resources to underprivileged districts' schools:
The fact that Union City is handsomely funded, thanks to a New Jersey court ruling that funnels extra state dollars to the poorest districts, makes a considerable difference.
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND THE GUNS VS. BUTTER (& TESTS VS. EDUCATION) CHOICE
Across the country, school communities are seeing their schools closed or budget slashed for financial reasons. Meanwhile, there are millions available for tests, Common Core curricula, prisons, sports stadiums and weapons of war. Can school communities afford any longer to avoid asking for social justice and ask for budgetary spending to be directed towards constructive social needs rather than prisons, missiles or frills such as stadiums?

POSTSCRIPT:
*Over a thousand teachers and supporters rallied against the cuts in Philadelphia Public Schools: "Hundreds of Philly teachers rally for more school district funding"
*Cyber school scandal alert in Pennsylvania, broken by The Raw Story: "Corruption at Pennsylvania’s largest cyber-charter school as founder charged with funneling $8 million into private account"
*Another very good overview in Salon.com: "“Indescribably insane”: A public school system from hell Pennsylvania's right-wing governor drains public schools of basic funds -- and the sickening details will shock you"