HARRISBURG, Pa. – Over 100 members of two coalitions, Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools and the Coalition to Keep Public Schools Public, boarded buses on June 25 to lobby for the $75 million promised to Philadelphia schools last December by Governor Mark Schweiker during the state takeover of the school district.

The Republican majority legislature had refused to include this expenditure in the 2002-03 budget. The coalitions asked the Pennsylvania legislature to not only approve the promised $75 million but to also amend the School Code so that no employees are hired without a criminal check, all companies hired are investigated, no state funds can be provided for contracted-out services and that parents be required to vote their approval of changing any school to a charter school or other configuration.

In the name of reform, the state takeover has caused havoc in the district. Through the School Reform Commission (SRC), 42 schools have been turned over to Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) without any input from the staff, parents, students or communities of those schools.

Edison Schools, Inc., will run twenty schools, while another 28 schools face total reorganization. The plans of the SRC are secret and arbitrary. Some question if there is a plan or if the members of the SRC make it up as they go along.

At the press conference in the Rotunda of the State Capitol, coalition members and state legislators spoke. Shelly Yanoff, from Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, said, “We are standing up for our kids. Put the money into classrooms, not corporate boardrooms.”

Wendell Harris, a parent of five public school students and a member of the Home and School Council, called on the Legislature to “Stop trying to invent the wheel, grease it.” Harris admonished the SRC for giving out contracts to politically connected groups and individuals.

Rachel Cohan, a member of the Philadelphia Student Union, said, “Edison is not the answer. We need fair funding, well-paid teachers, with students and parents a part of the decision making process.”

Keith Newman, a teacher, questioned the direction of the SRC. He noted increased cuts in the music program, school libraries and staff while Edison Schools, Inc., is promised huge fees in spite of its poor record and dire financial state.

Tom Doyle, president of Local 1201, which represents the blue-collar school workers said, “Our bias is our kids: 90 percent of these workers have kids in public schools. Our children are not for sale.”

One of seven legislators to speak, State Sen. Vincent Hughes spoke out strongly against privatization. “Philadelphia has become the laughing-stock of America,” he said. “No more experiments! We know what works. All 501 Pennsylvania school districts deserve adequate funds.”

At about 1 a.m. Saturday morning the legislature passed a $20.7 billion budget, including $76 million for Philadelphia schools. Without this money the school district would have faced a deficit, even after it was forced by the SRC to borrow $300 million to be repaid over 20 years with $150 million in interest.

Pennsylvania does not provide either adequate or equitable funding to its schools. Wealthy districts raise additional funds through property taxes; poor districts like Philadelphia can’t do this. Many legislators agree that the state must change the way it funds its schools. The $76 million will not fund real reform. Privatization won’t either.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net

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