The destruction of the School District of Philadelphia began in 2001. That was the year when the schools were in serious financial trouble. The lack of funding had two culprits. Philadelphia’s City Council was not interested in raising real estate taxes to help the district. Pennsylvania’s state legislature has never wanted to seriously fund Philadelphia schools. So a deal was made. The mayor agreed to allow the state to take over Philadelphia schools to ease the fiscal crisis. This was when the School Reform Commission (SRC) was born. The SRC was to have five members – two appointed by the mayor and three appointed by the governor with the consent of the state legislature. Just like the disbanded school board, the SRC had no power to raise revenue. It could only oversee the district’s budget.
As you can imagine, the next few years brought constant change but little infusion of funds. Schools that didn’t perform well on standardized tests were slated to be “turned around” under a variety of cute names. Some schools had a large portion of their faculty replaced. Others were given new administration. Still others were slated to be turned over to outside managers. Some became charters. The worst however was yet to come.
The destruction of the district continued as more schools were turned over to outside managers. Most of these managers were set up as non-profits who were not only paid for their services but were also allotted more money per pupil than those schools that remained under district control. This set up an unequal comparison of district run schools with smaller budgets to those with outside managers and more money. Few of these managers had success and eventually their contracts were terminated.
The next wave of destruction took place when more schools began to fail. It was decided that many of them would become charter schools. Originally parents and community members were allowed to get together and write proposals for a charter for their neighborhood school. It soon became obvious that charters were being awarded only to those who had connections to companies that would help run the charter. But how much of the money going to these groups was actually spent on educating children.
The charter boom led to several scandals. Some were investigated by the FBI and shut down. A few of the charter operators ended up in jail and one committed suicide before he could be arrested. One would think that these scandals would have slowed down the number of new charters, but it didn’t.
By now you might be wondering what the teachers had to say about all of this. Well they have been fighting for some time to get a moratorium on new charters. They have also fought to restore cuts to district run schools which included counselors, librarians and nurses. Unlike what often happens when teachers put up a fuss, the parents backed them.
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