More or Less

Three thousand, eight hundred. That’s how many teachers and school staff the students in Philadelphia are losing. You read that right: 3,800 – almost 20% of the city’s entire education workforce – received pink slips last week. Philadelphia public schools will no longer have any secretaries to answer the phones, counselors to help students, assistant principals, or cafeteria monitors. There will be no more teachers for music, art, or library. No books, supplies, after school activities, clubs, or field trips. [The Notebook, 6-7-13]

One Philadelphia teacher wrote to education historian Diane Ravitch this weekend to say, “Most of my co-workers laid off were history teachers – an untested subject in PA.” She went on, “What is happening in Philadelphia is a complete travesty and a failure of democracy … If I return to the classroom in the fall, the ‘education’ I will be able to give my students will not look anything like what I was taught education should be.” [DianeRavitch, 6-9-13] Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the cuts will leave only “something called a school.” [The Notebook, 6-7-13]

So why should we care over here in Southwest PA? For one thing, the travesty described by these Philadelphia educators is just the tip of the public-education-crisis iceberg. What’s happening in the city of brotherly love is happening all over Pennsylvania (and in fact, all over the country) with the systematic de-funding of our schools, the re-routing of public resources to private hands, and the re-writing of state education policies to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Look at Duquesne school district, which is circling the drain and may not even be a school district after next year. Look at Wilkinsburg, which is on the state’s new “financial watch list” and is just inches from a state takeover. The Post-Gazette reports today that residents there think “the district has already fallen off the cliff”. One person told a reporter, “Honestly, it’s too far gone. … At this point, it needs to be totally dismantled.”  [Post-Gazette, 6-10-13] That’s the tragic sound of the public giving up on public education. Worse, it means people have given up on public school students.

This battle we are fighting for our schools is a battle for education justice. This past weekend, Yinzercator Kathy Newman and I presented at the Labor and Working Class History Association conference in New York City, along with our colleague Rebecca Poyourow from Philadelphia. We talked about the political, social, and economic context of public education today and our grassroots movement – and Rebecca spoke movingly about what is happening in our sister city.

In another session, teachers from New York and Chicago talked about the successful 2012 Chicago teachers strike, which was really a strike to save public schools for public school students. Peter Brogan, a Ph.D. student in geography and one of the panelists at that session, described the way that school closings reproduce poverty in particular neighborhoods and treat students as “surplus humanity.” What an apt phrase. When we give up on public schools in places like Wilkinsburg or Philadelphia, we condemn tens of thousands of children to living as surplus humanity. And we know that this “surplus” is mostly black and brown. In other words, education justice is also about racial justice.

I was struck by this photo taken at a recent rally in Philadelphia of a young African-American student holding a sign that reads, “Why take MORE when we already have LESS?” Indeed.

[Photo: Amy Yeboah, The Notebook, 5-30-13]

Think about this student. Think about Duquesne and Wilkinsburg. Think about Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and the devastating cuts to our educational programs. It’s time to get MORE for these students who have LESS.

Education Voters PA is urging everyone to call the State Senate today, explaining, “Over the past two years, the Senate has played a critical role in getting money back into the budget for public education. …Right now the Senate is where key decisions will get made to move things in the right direction.” Click here to get your Senator’s information and then call today and tell them to:

  • Fight for $270 million in funding to be restored. If they can cut almost $1 billion in one year, then restoring a third of that shouldn’t be impossible. In addition, they should help identify resources for Special Education – which has been flat funded for 5 years – and they should fix the charter pension double dip.
  • Adopt provisions to improve the funding allocation formula to make it fairer and to get to adequate funding levels for all students.
  • Ask them NOT give away hundreds of millions this year by eliminating the state corporate assets tax (the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax). Tell them to delay this phase out so we can so we can invest in children instead of providing another corporate tax break.

That would do it, more or less.

5 thoughts on “More or Less

  1. Think of the State of Pa as Bain Capital….when they ‘take-over’ a district, the district gets pushed into bankruptcy, starved, stripped and then busted. And the big financial sharks get to feast and thrive. Jobs are lost, communities devastated and children’s security made insecure, if not terrified. Ask Philly…we could write a book…if we had any pencils or paper.

  2. From a letter from a fired teacher in Philadelphia to the Notebook:

    “Since coming to the District, I found equipment when there was none, I created curriculum when there was nothing, I did without when we needed supplies. I broke up fights. I sent kids to class when they wandered the halls. I worked two summer programs and took the extra step to complete training when the District did not think it was needed. For the last four years, I have struggled, alongside the most courageous and honorable people I have ever worked with, to teach the students, feed the students, clothe the students, protect the students, and lead the students. For this dedication, and for the dedication of my brothers and sisters in education, we are now rewarded with this? A District that lets us go, a union that shrugs its shoulders, a city that sleeps, a state that remains deaf, a federal system that demands more and offers less. The real crime is to the neighborhoods and blocks in Philadelphia that cry out for something better to anyone that would hear, and that sound is lost in the overwhelming symphony of thundering apathy on all sides.”

    Thank you, Jessie and Yinzer Nation, for being the sole voice fighting Pennsylvania’s apathy to the plight of other people’s children. Teachers and their students can’t thank you enough. I hope the state wakes up and activates before all teachers like the one quoted above find different professions. I fear that only when public schools are thoroughly dead will parents en masse begin to fight. Thank you for being a note of positivity in this sea of fear and rage so many of us in the trenches feel.

  3. Pingback: More or Less | Pittsburgh's Yinzercation ← NPE News Briefs

  4. What’s happening in Philadelphia and Chicago (with the schools closing) is awful. I see that you describe the strike as successful. Could you please elaborate on why you think it was successfu, given the current situation?

    • The Chicago teachers won their contract battle – which was really about students and schools. But they are obviously still fighting terrible forces there now intent on shutting down 53 schools. The battle continues!

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