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State Wallet Tightens for Philadelphia Schools

Closed School

Philadelphia schools might open next year without new books, art or music classes—and without thousands of current employees. The state-appointed School Reform Commission passed what critics call a “draconian” budget of $2.4 billion for Philadelphia schools last month that would drastically cut education spending across the city. The New York Times reports:

Pink slips were recently sent to 19 percent of the school-based work force, including all 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides. Principals are contemplating opening in September with larger classes but no one to answer phones, keep order on the playground, coach sports, check out library books or send transcripts for seniors applying to college.

Philadelphia’s schools, whose chronic budget problems led to a state takeover in 2002, have not been this close to the abyss in memory. The troubles have many causes: rising pension costs, high debt payments for past borrowing that papered over budget gaps, a flight to charter schools and a block-grant formula for state aid that has fallen behind enrollments, which have increased 5,000 a year between charter and traditional schools, according to Mr. Hite.

The tighter budget is a continuation of the city’s efforts to trim the fat: The city faces a $1.35 billion budget deficit and earlier this year opted to shutter and consolidate 23 schools. Philadelphia is far from alone in its problems. One Michigan school district was temporarily shut down due to lack of funds, while another fired all of its teachers. Chicago closed nearly 50 schools earlier this year in one of the biggest schools closures in the country.

The cuts in school districts across the country are painful for the thousands of public woekers affected, but they are far from a death sentence for the schools. Most of the cities that have seen their budgets cut have been running massively inefficient organizations with bloated bureaucracies for years. Many struggling urban schools serve only a small fraction of the students they were designed to serve; many others have alarmingly poor results on student achievement despite massive per student spending totals.

In the private sector, it’s standard practice for struggling companies to cut costs and personnel in an effort to remain efficient. Due to the power of entrenched bureaucracies and public unions, this is far less common in the public sector, but the massive budget crises faced by these struggling cities has forced their hand. Now these school districts are faced with a choice: either innovate and find a way to deliver better results for less money, or watch students and residents abandon the school system for better alternatives elsewhere.

Fortunately, 33 percent of Philadelphia’s 200,000 students are already in charter schools. They will be shielded as public officials attempt to navigate their new financially constrained world. But for the sake of the other students, we hope these officials catch on quickly.

[Closed school image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    Democracy is best served by extending to all children an equal opportunity to attend schools adequate for the achievement of self-realization, economic sufficiency, civic responsibility, and effective human relationships. Can public schools In a climate of change deliver the above given fiscal woes of financing public K-12 education?

    • Stacy Garvey

      The public schools haven’t delivered this for decades. Wake-up.

      • Anthony

        You missed the point. Education is literally a consumer’s good as well as a producer’s good. Sustainability has no ideology.

  • Pete

    “Pink slips were recently sent to 19 percent of the school-based work force, including all 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides.”

    It’s a start.

  • Anthony

    For those of you interested in charter schools, check this out. It’s a charter school in Harlem that is partially based on the school system in South Korea. The founder of the school taught in South Korea and decided to bring back some of the methods he saw there. This is pretty interesting.

  • bpuharic

    Again and again we see the middle class paying the costs of the recent 1% rampage through our economy.

    • Stacy Garvey

      The students finding their schools closing in Philly aren’t from the middle class. If by “middle class paying” you’re referring to the public employees who will lose their jobs due to school closing, then possibly you need to question why these systems exist: to educate students or as an make work job center? The 1% didn’t cause the massive waste and inefficiencies of the public school system either. Politicians pandering to unions and inflexible systems created this mess. Stop looking for a boogie-man or scape-goat to blame.

      • bpuharic

        States across the nation are facing this, with unions as the typical whipping boy. This is happening in non union states as well, but Americans love to beat up on unions since they reduce inequality. We’ve been born and bred to love and respect the wealthy, no matter how they acquire wealth and no matter what the social consequences.

        Teacher unions have been around a LONG time. This economic disaster we’re in started in November 2007.

        • Stacy Garvey

          Right. And states with weaker public service unions are experiencing less economic distress, with lower unemployment rates and greater job creation. Politicians wanted union dollars and support. They over-promised. Public schools in Chicago, Philly and Detroit are disasters even though they were adequately and generously funded for decades.

          • bpuharic

            Unions reduce inequality. The US is in the process of destroying its middle class, in the service of the 1%. The middle class has had a


            increase in wages in the last 30 years. The wealthiest 1%? They tripled their income.

            If you’re happy with the US going the way of Somalia, rejoice. If you’re worried about our future, you have good reason.

          • Stacy Garvey

            There is incredible inequality in the US, but unions – particularly public service unions don’t decrease inequality – they promote it. It’s not 1956 anymore. There’s a tremendous difference in the affects of public and private union membership. Public unions promote stagnation and inequality by locking the public into failing institutions that benefit rent seekers. The poor – forced into failing public schools – are the ones most damaged by systems that resist change.

          • bpuharic

            Nonsense. Timothy Noah’s recent “Slate” articles, and his recent book, show that globalization of education, along with the decline of unions, has had disastrous effects on the US middle class.

            And the point about public unions is also wrong. Few states are as ill served as those in the south…and they have no unions.

          • Stacy Garvey

            Well, thank goodness for Timothy Noah then. That settles it. You don’t actually need to make real points you can just make a call to authority. I suggest a class in rhetoric.
            I suggest you continue to keep your head buried firmly in the sand. I’m sure the world you envision will come to pass or good or naught.

          • bpuharic

            So I should believe you, because you listen to talk radio and hate unions, rather than someone who’s actually marshalled a case?

            Uh…no. Don’t think so.

          • Stacy Garvey

            Riggght. Do you enjoy type-casting your opponents? You might want to turn off MSNBC occasionally – there, how’s that feel? Engage with the argument: Unions reinforce inequality by creating a favored class of worker and by creating institutions that are rigid and resistant to change and poorly serve the public. try again.

          • bpuharic

            Well you have a bit of a problem here in your analysis…with the facts

            The US has one of the lowest rates of unionized workforces in the western world

            The US has one of the worst rates of inequality in the western world

            So go ahead and spin that.

          • Stacy Garvey

            You make it incredibly difficult to debate you when you cannot distinguish between public and private sector unions and you don’t actually address any salient point. But, again, good luck with that head in the sad tactic. Union members in Detroit aren’t going to be able to misunderstand the outcome of their failed union membership, though.

          • bpuharic

            While there are important differences between the 2, the fact is unions are healthy for America. Public unions have to be tempered, and there’s no proof states with no public unions are in better shape than those with unions. Unions are just a whipping boy for the failed right wing view of America as a meritocracy instead of the plutocracy it’s actually become.

          • Stacy Garvey

            Actually, there is ample proof that Right to Work states and those with weaker public sector union rights are doing “better” then blue states. Lower unemployment rates, higher levels of new job creation……Unions are just one aspect of the problem – rent seekers in all their forms – corporate and union are the source of economic stagnation.

          • bpuharic

            Yes America’s becoming a 3rd world country. The 1% tripled their income in the last 30 years while the middle class was stagnant. Great achievement.

  • Jim Breed

    No problem. Obama wants to give the schools high-speed internet. Problem solved.

  • Anthony

    The economics of education (public) remains the real investments in human capital – sustainability has no ideology.

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