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“How do you justify closing 12 schools in North Philadelphia?” School Closing Plan Gets An Angry Reception

By John Leslie

school meeting

On January 8, 2013, nearly 1000 students, parents and other community members  gave the School District of Philadelphia’s plan to gut public education an angry reception.  District officials struggled to present their plan as a raucous crowd  chanted and jeered. at  the first of nine meetings planned to explain district restructuring and downsizing plans.

North Philly will be particularly  hard hit with 12 schools slated to close, including elementary, middle and high schools.  The Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson is scheduled to move to the Germantown section, raising questions of how students from poor families will get to and from school. Sixth grader Shamiah Simms asked, “How do you justify closing 12 schools in North Philadelphia?”

The closings will mean longer walks to schools, as more students are forced to leave their neighborhood to attend school.  “Too long, too far…If I’m a kid, by the time I get to school, I’m tired, I’m angry. I’m not going to learn much today.”  Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)  staffer, Robenna Wilson,  told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The cash-strapped Philadelphia schools were taken over by the state in 2001, with an unelected School Reform Commission put in charge of restructuring public  education in the city.  The result has been continued neglect of district buildings (many are outmoded and in need of replacement), privatization, a shift to charter schools and layoffs and cutbacks of District personnel.  The SRC plan, authored by the outside consulting company, Boston Consulting Group, and  released last year, calls for the closing of 38 city schools this year, followed by the closing of an additional 24 schools over the next 4 years.  The SRC projects that as many as 40 percent of students in Philadelphia will be taught in charters by 2017.

One of the most dangerous staffing cuts was the decision to eliminate school nurses from some schools. There are more than 360  public and private schools and after the latest round of cuts, there will be only 185 nurses. Many schools will have nurses for only a few days a week.

attacks on public education

All of this is occurring in the context of a nationwide offensive against public education at every level and attacks on the right of teachers to organize and bargain collectively.  Tuition at public universities has increased as state legislatures have launched savage cutbacks. Attacks on public education at the primary and secondary level have increased, particularly in already economically stressed urban districts.

The current campaign to convert public schools to privately held charter schools translates into a further transfer of public wealth into the hands of the richest one percent.  The privatization mania is being led by both capitalists parties, even though academic performance at charters is not demonstrably better than at public schools.  In Chicago, for instance, the war on public education is being promoted by Rahm Emmanuel, a political crony of President Obama. Pro -corporate school “reformers” in Chicago are threatening massive school closures to supposedly  “right-size” the district in an apparent attempt to punish the Chicago Teachers’ Union for their successful strike last Fall.  School systems in Atlanta, New Orleans, Cleveland and Detroit have already been devastated by corporate privitizers.

The privitizers play a simple game based on the big lie. Blame teachers ,with their salaries benefits, for being the reason that city kids “can’t learn” and then strip the system down so that a few can profit from what’s left of a struggling education system.  But how are kids supposed to learn in buildings that are falling apart and in need of repair – buildings that our political leaders have allowed to fall to ruin? How are kids supposed to learn with textbooks that are out-of-date and in short supply? How are kids supposed to learn when their parents struggle to make ends meet, often working more than one job?  Instead, we are told to blame the kids and their teachers for the problem.

race and class dimensions  

Despite the supposed failures of public education, if you look at more well-off districts in the suburbs,  you find that satisfaction rates of parents and students are higher.  This points to the class and race dimensions of the education crisis. The brunt of cutbacks in education access  is being borne by students from oppressed nationality and poor communities. This is certainly true in a Philadelphia, where the majority of students are Black and Latino.  In an uncertain economic climate, where jobs are scarce and discrimination still persists, Philadelphia’s kids are being sent to the back of the educational bus.

“The fix has been in for a long time, and not just in Philadelphia. Philly’s school problems are anything but unique. The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don’t want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don’t need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go. The business class can pocket the money which used to pay for teachers’ and custodians’ retirement and health benefits, for music and literature and gym classes, for sports and science labs and theater and all that other stuff that used to be wasted on public school children.”
Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?   Bruce A Dixon,  Black Agenda Report,

While school budgets are being slashed, budgets for prisons and prison construction are being increased.  The US incarcerates  2.4 million people, most of them Black and Latino. For-profit
“corrections” companies and private corporations reap super-profits from prisoners, not only from the payments received from the state for “housing” prisoners, but also from the low-wage labor prisoners provide to prison linked sweatshops.

In Pennsylvania,  the Department of Corrections is planning to open a new 2000 bed facility in Benner Township, and is just now beginning construction on two new prisons in Montgomery County. The price tag for all three prisons is approximately $600 million. A fraction of the money spent on new prison construction would help alleviate the funding crunch felt by local districts.

defend public education!

Defending the public education will require building abroad independent mass mobilization of the community and labor.  It will also require a more critical evaluation of the relationship between our movements and the Democratic party, an institution that is part of the ruling class attack on our schools. For instance, we should ask why the Teachers unions continue to support the Democrats, while this party is actively pushing cutbacks and charter schools. The Chicago Teachers’ Union showed the way with their strike last Fall. By building alliances with parents and the broader labor movement, they were able to make the case for improving the schools.

Unlike the bosses’ political hand-puppets, we say that education is a right. The fight for education is linked to a broader social justice agenda.   We say full funding for the social safety net and the creation of a public works jobs program to create millions of jobs at top union wages and for a national healthcare system. Time to end wars overseas and use the resources to  build schools, not more prisons.  The richest one percent created this crisis, make them pay for it.

 

(photo credit to Occupy Philadelphia)

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