The new school year got off to a rocky start in Philadelphia.
Students must navigate the school system without guidance counselors. About 60 percent of all schools do not have a full-time counselor. A group of 16 ‘itinerant’ counselors will serve eight schools with a combined enrollment of 48,000 students. Do the math: That’s one counselor for 3,000 students.
The failure to fund basic education means in some schools, students will have to “hold it” because there are no hall monitors to unlock the bathroom doors.
On Saturday, Education for a Better America held a Higher Education Awareness, Dropout Prevention and Health Initiative at the Community College of Philadelphia. Dominique Sharpton is president of EBA’s Board of Directors.
In her welcoming remarks, Ms. Sharpton said:
Education for a Better America seeks to promote, fund and sponsor educational systems that serve the needs of students in urban communities. Philadelphia is dealing with a major crisis in public education. The children in Philadelphia deserve better. The focus should be on closing the achievement gap, not closing schools.
Ms. Sharpton asked:
If there are no guidance counselors, who will help students apply for college and financial aid?
The concern about the defunding of Philly’s public schools was echoed by speaker after speaker, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
While noting he has no direct control over the school district, Nutter said:
We need a new and real education funding formula across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…There’s not one reason in the world that the things we have asked Harrisburg to do have not happened. If you’re not going to help us, let us help ourselves.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry T. Jordan said help is long overdue:
After many years of underfunding, our children are in the position where they are not getting the basics…They don’t have access to libraries because librarians have been laid off. They can’t access resources at multimillion dollar libraries…Class sizes have ballooned. Some classes have 40, 50, 60 children.
Jordan questioned whether the facilities should be called public schools:
Philadelphia schools have been starved to the point where it’s almost unfair to call them public schools.
It’s criminal for the state to abandon its responsibility to provide an adequate education. Gov. Corbett says teachers should pay for the deficit out of their pockets. He’s withholding $45 million until he’s satisfied that teachers have given up enough.
Jordan said we must move beyond “band-aid solutions to get us through another school year.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, gave the keynote address.
Sharpton denounced a solution that scapegoats teachers who are on the frontline:
We need to bust that up and fight for the right to a public education. It will inspire children because they will know someone cares about them… We need an education movement to show in the name of Dr. King that education is a civil right. We cannot fulfill the dream without fighting for quality education.
He questioned the Governor’s priorities:
You got money, Corbett, for jails, but no money for schools. And you ask what’s wrong with the kids? I come to ask, “What’s wrong with you?” Bible says that you reap what you sow. Well, if you invest in jails and cut the budget on schools, you’re investing in incarceration rather than education.
Sharpton plans to expose what’s happening in Philadelphia on his MSNBC show, “PoliticsNation”:
The whole world needs to know that in the City of Brotherly Love they are building jails and closing schools…The whole world needs to know what’s happening here in Philadelphia. Unelected officials have destabilized the city and children’s right to a quality education.
We will take the veil off the city. We will not lie. We want you to stand buck naked before the world and let them see what’s happening here.
Yo Corbett, the Pennsylvania State Chapter of the National Action Network is watching you.