by Sue Ann Rybak
As the parent of a sixth grader who attends J.S. Jenks Elementary School in Chestnut Hill, I am appalled at the current state of Philadelphia’s public schools. Last week, Superintendent William Hite announced at a press conference that if the district did not receive at least $50 million by Friday, Aug. 16, the district may not be able to open all 212 schools by Sept. 9.
Recently, the state House of Representatives passed a bill to give the district a one-time grant of $45 million in state funds that were originally owed to the federal government, but may be forgiven. The money currently is in limbo and depends largely upon concessions from teachers and their contract which expires on August 31.
In addition, a portion of the money is contingent on the Pennsylvania education secretary deciding that the district has made adequate “reforms that provide for fiscal stability, educational improvement and operational control.”
While I have little faith that the district will not face a financial crisis next year, I do believe that the district has taken steps to remedy the current situation. While the Governor stalls on providing critical funds to Philadelphia’s public schools, the state continues to find funds to build new prisons. Meanwhile, students, parents and teachers are being held hostage.
With less than four weeks to the opening of schools, the city is scrambling to find new sources of revenue to fund public schools, but cannot agree on a solution. Mayor Nutter wants City Council to increase the 1 percent city sales tax to raise the $50 million the district needs to rehire crucial staff, including assistant principals, counselors and lunch aides.
City Council President Darrell Clark said the sales increase would hurt the city. He proposes giving the school district $50 million in cash in exchange for closed neighborhood schools and other surplus real estate.
It’s time to put political haggling aside. Time is running out. The governor and our local representatives need to act. Our children not only deserve a quality education but, under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), are “entitled to a free and appropriate public education.” If the school district decides not to open on Sept. 9, the courts may decide otherwise. But who can argue that a school without adequate staff, paper and books is an “appropriate” education?
Unfortunately, many people don’t believe they should have to pay for other people’s children to be educated, but as a society we all have a stake in the future of our children.
As Americans, do we really believe that we should continue to bail out large corporations but not provide our children with the right to receive a quality education in a safe environment? Regrettably, I don’t see a constitutional amendment protecting our children’s right to a quality education anytime in the near future. Therefore, I will be exercising my right to freedom of speech by participating in a Day of Action to Save Our Schools at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Comcast Center, 17th Street and JFK Boulevard. Let’s send a message to our city officials that our children matter.
For more information about a Day of Action to Save Our Schools go to facebook.com/events/203562856469727/.