Poor and mismanaged schools in Philadelphia have been the story for decades.
If Philadelphians are honest with themselves, they’ll admit – as have I – that Governor Tom Corbett shouldn’t shoulder absolute blame for the failure of the Philadelphia School District. For decades the district has struggled to graduate literate, fully functioning young people who grow up and contribute to society in a meaningful way.
To ask Governor Tom Corbett to admit that he is solely responsible for the horrid, present-day conditions of Philadelphia schools would be to ignore the fact that in 2001, when the state took over the district, threats of layoffs were looming, more than half of the city’s students failed to achieve a basic level of comprehension on state reading and math tests, and the district was facing a $200 million operating deficit in its $2 billion budget.
The Philadelphia School District hasn’t gone from great to good or from good to bad, it’s gone from bad to worst with no real, bipartisan solution in sight.
I don’t dig all of Governor Corbett’s politics, especially his jive talk about not raising the minimum wage and his refusal to tax the extraction of natural gas. But I also don’t dig the misleading narrative that he cut a billion dollars to public education – when it seems the truth is he just didn’t immediately restore state funding once the one-time federal stimulus money ran out – and that’s why Philly find itself in a sticky, icky, “politricky” situation.
If Philadelphians want to protest someone, if they want someone to point the finger at, I recommend starting with these people:
Governor Mark S. Schweiker: The Republican governor was adamant about a state takeover, citing both academic and financial concerns. When the deal was done, he said:
”I believe we will give rise to the finest urban school system in the country.”
He pushed to ensure that Edison, the largest for-profit education company in the U.S, had a role in reforming Philly’s broken school system. More than a decade later, Philly is the laughing stock of the nation and student and teacher moral seems to be at an all-time low.
Mayor John Street: The mayor, a Democrat, was very reluctant to relinquish control to the state. But after getting a commitment from Mr. Schweiker that he’d contribute $75 million to close the deficit, Mr. Street agreed and swiftly abolished the school board.
Representative Dwight Evans: This guy campaigned to be the Mayor of Philadelphia in 1999 and 2007. But what people don’t know about Mr. Evans is that he was the brains and brawn behind the takeover bill that erected the five-member School Reform Commission that practically answers to no one and can only be dissolved if the entity no longer feels they’re needed.
Dick Thornburg, Robert P. Casey and Tom Ridge: According to The New York Times, in 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55 percent of school funding statewide. In 2011, the state’s contribution was less than 36 percent. These three gentlemen sat in the state’s top chair during the era when the state decreased its support for public education.
Ed Rendell: People always talk about this guy as if he was a faith leader that walked on water, instead of a two term mayor who oversaw some of Philly education’s worst years, and then as governor cut state funding and replaced it with one-time federal stimulus money than ran out June 30th, 2011.
There are actually too many names to enumerate on this list, considering that in 1967, according to Wikipedia, high school students demonstrated in front of the Board of Education building, demanding better treatment, especially for African-American students, and better funding.
Philadelphia’s schools have always been a problem and will continue to be a problem until there’s a fair funding formula that’s not attached to property taxes, cultural-centric curriculums that engage students in their languages and values, meaningful social service integration, focused investments in online learning modules, balanced and transparent governance and a shared ideology that education is human right that should be available, at high quality, to everyone.
There’s enough blame to go around, so instead, let’s look forward with a true understanding of what happened in the past, and work together to ensure that no child or no school is left behind in the future.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™