“What is happening in Philadelphia is a tragedy for our children.”
National and local civil rights organizations are calling on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to immediately address the tragedy of the Philadelphia school budget crisis and to provide more fair and equitable state funding so that every Pennsylvania student can receive a high-quality education.
In a letter sent this week to Gov. Corbett, organization leaders called on the state to immediately release $45 million in funds earmarked specifically for the School District of Philadelphia. The leaders are also calling on the Governor to restore and update a funding formula put in place by his predecessor that more fairly distributed education funding based on costs, rather than the newly adopted system, which greatly underfunds low-income school districts.
“Philadelphia has become a cautionary tale for the rest of the country, illustrating the harm that occurs when political posturing and irresponsible budget decisions trump the educational needs of students, families, and communities,” the letter said.
“The students attending Philadelphia public schools now face extreme and dire deficits in the most basic educational resources… By requiring more than 137,000 students, 85 percent of whom are students of color and 82 percent of whom are low-income, to go to schools with substandard resources, the state is knowingly jeopardizing their futures.”
Signers of the letter include the heads of national and local affiliates and partners of the NAACP, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, and the National Urban League; the heads of national groups The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the League of United Latin American Citizens; and the heads of the local affiliates of the Education Law Center.
The letter was sent Tuesday, October 8, and the Governor has not yet replied to the letter’s concerns or its request for a meeting.
Below is a quote from Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“Pennsylvania has become the new face of inequality in public education. When students – mostly students of color – are being denied access to qualified teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, and -- in some instances -- even desks, it consigns them to a netherworld of inequality. Pennsylvania in effect has turned its back on its obligation for a quality education for all of its children. That’s why this is not just a local issue, but a national one. If civil rights groups don’t act now, the cynical brinkmanship that Governor Corbett is using could embolden governors in states like Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana to do the same thing.”
The full text of the letter and its signers are below:
October 8, 2013
The Honorable Tom Corbett
Governor of Pennsylvania
508 E-Floor Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
Dear Governor Corbett:
On behalf of the undersigned civil and human rights leaders, we write to urge you to take immediate action to address the budget crisis in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). This crisis quickly has become an embarrassment to the entire nation. Over the last several years, Philadelphia has become a cautionary tale for the rest of the country, illustrating the harm that occurs when political posturing and irresponsible budget decisions trump the educational needs of students, families, and communities.
The students attending Philadelphia public schools now face extreme and dire deficits in the most basic educational resources. The unwillingness of state officials to act compels us to join with local parents and advocates who are leading the effort to protect the fundamental right of their children to a quality education that prepares them for civic participation and productive employment.
As the birthplace of American democracy and the eighth largest school district in the country, the national implications of a failed SDP cannot be overstated. Philadelphia will play a central role in the course of our nation. By requiring more than 137,000 students, 85 percent of whom are students of color and 82 percent of whom are low-income,[i] to go to schools with substandard resources, the state is knowingly jeopardizing their futures. These students are a critical part of our future labor force. They are the next generation of innovators and leaders. Without a high quality education, these students stand little chance of obtaining jobs that will enable them to earn a living wage in the 21st century economy.[ii] The citizens of Pennsylvania expect you to fulfill the state’s obligation to ensure a “thorough and efficient system of public education,”[iii] as guaranteed in Pennsylvania’s Constitution. The nation looks to you for your leadership to address immediately this moral, economic, and legal imperative.
The SDP faces a $300 million budget shortfall largely created by slashing state education aid by $1 billion,[iv] and abandoning a state school funding formula designed to increase resource allocations to the highest need schools and districts.[v] Given the depth of this crisis, it is unfathomable that Pennsylvania would choose to build a $400 million prison in the Philadelphia area.[vi] The state’s irrational priorities, have led the SDP to close nearly two dozen public schools; dismiss nearly a thousand teachers, virtually all school counselors and other essential staff; curtail elective course offerings; and eliminate school libraries,[vii] causing irreparable harm to students.
We urge you to release immediately the $45 million in state funds[viii] previously appropriated to the SDP without condition. These emergency funds will enable the SDP to begin to restore essential teachers, staff, programs, and services. Further, we urge you to take immediate action, in collaboration with the SDP, to assess the need for additional state funds to ensure an appropriate level of teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, and other staff; ensure a proper curriculum and course offerings in all schools; and return class size to reasonable levels. Based on this assessment, we ask you to work with the Legislature to propose and enact a supplemental appropriation of state aid for the current school year.
Finally, in order to address the long-term funding needs of the SDP and other high need school districts in Pennsylvania, we urge your administration to launch promptly a process to update the state school funding formula adopted in 2007; enact that formula into law; and establish a multi-year phase-in to restore fair and equitable school funding to all students statewide. A funding formula based on the actual cost of meeting the state-adopted Common Core standards, and sufficient to enable all students to achieve those standards, is essential for the state to improve student outcomes in future years, especially for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged students.
What is happening in Philadelphia is a tragedy for our children. We risk losing yet another generation of children to the consequences of an inadequate education. By taking the steps outlined above, with your leadership, we can begin the process of restoring excellence to the Philadelphia public schools. Accordingly, we urge your administration and Pennsylvania legislators to join with local officials, parents, advocates, and community stakeholders to resolve immediately this crisis and then put public education in Pennsylvania back on track with an effective, fair and equitable school funding system. Investing in education is one of the single most important functions of government and forms the bedrock of our democracy and the economy.
We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss a solution to this crisis.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director, Education Law Center – PA
Patricia A. Coulter, President & CEO, Urban League of Philadelphia
Phuong Do, Interim Executive Director, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Wade Henderson, President & CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO, NAACP
Jerome Mondesire, President, Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches
Marc Morial, President & CEO, National Urban League
David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center – NJ
Rorng Sorn, Executive Director, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia
Brent A. Wilkes, National Executive Director, League of United Latin American Citizens
[i] School District of Philadelphia. Enrollment – District Schools. Retrieved from http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/about/#enrollment. Accessed September 24, 2013.
[ii] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm. Carnevale, A., Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020 (Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce June 26, 2013)
[iii] Pa. Const. art. 3 § 14. Retrieved from http://www.pahouse.com/pa_const.htm.
[iv] Resnikoff, N. MSNBC. Philadelphia Schools Latest Victim of Massive State Cuts. June 13, 2013. Retrieved from http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/13/state-cuts-to-education-spur-philadelphia-school-budget-crisis/
[v] Education Law Center. Funding Formulas, and Fairness: What Pennsylvania Can Learn From Other States’ Educating Funding Formulas. February 2013. Retrieved from http://www.elc-pa.org/ELC_schoolfundingreport.2013.pdf
[vi]Forbes. Philadelphia Schools Closing While a New $400 Million Prison is Under Construction: Could It Be Worse Than It Sounds? June 17, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/mattstroud/2013/06/17/philadelphia-schools-closing-while-new-400-million-prison-under-construction/
[vii] Gabriel, T. The New York Times. Budget Cuts Reach Bone for Philadelphia Schools. June 16, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/education/budget-cuts-reach-bone-for-philadelphia-schools.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[viii] Otterbein, H. Newsworks. Pa. House Approves $45 Million More for Philly’s Schools. July 16, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/the-latest/57341-pa-house-approves-45-million-more-for-phillys-schools