The tragedy in the School District of Philadelphia continues. Here are some of the realities. Last year after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut $1.1 billion out of the state school budget, the district was forced to lay off 4,000 teachers and other staff and close 24 public schools. The district reassigned thousands of students to new schools last fall and slashed essentials like high school guidance counselors and school nurses.
The schools in Philadelphia have been operating for many years under state control. The state appointed School Reform Commission, which has implemented a “portfolio school reform plan” designed by consultants at the Boston Consulting Group, currently functions as the closest thing to a school board. It reports to the governor not the voters. Portfolio plans emphasize the business strategy called “creative disruption”—closing and opening schools in a perpetual cycle—ending schools with low scores and experimenting with a variety of privatized charter schools.
This year Governor Corbett proposes to add funding in the state budget, but the extra funds are earmarked primarily for increasing the special education subsidy. Pennsylvania’s Education Law Center charges, “There is no proposed increase to the state’s Basic Education Funding line item, an essential funding source for all K-12 public school students. Instead the Governor has followed a familiar script—tying his funding proposal ($241 million) to special grants and as-yet-realized sources of revenue…”
Philadelphia Parents United for Public Schools calls Corbett’s budget “a paltry handout,” and “too little, too late.” Helen Gym, the organization’s president, decries the Governor’s proposal: “The Governor’s paltry handout to Philadelphia ensures that our children will live yet another year without adequate librarians, counselors, nurses, and teaching staff. It’s another year of parents scrambling for resources, paying for basic services in schools….” Parents United points out that Pennsylvania provides more in grant funding for wealthy districts than basic aid for school districts like Philadelphia, where the majority of students live in poverty. (According to the NY Times, 83 percent of Phildelphia’s current students are low income.)
Profiling Philadelphia’s current school superintendent, William Hite, Jr, earlier this week, the NY Times describes the enormous challenges he has faced in what may be “an unwinnable battle.” The reporter quotes James H. Lytle, former deputy superintendent in Philadelphia and now a professor of educational leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, who rates “Dr. Hite’s chances of getting the money he wants at ‘close to zero’ because of a lack of support from state legislators and the Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who prefer to see an increase in charter schools.” Lytle comments: “You could make the reasonable argument that the district is being completely deconstructed outside charter schools and perhaps for-profit schools.”