by Pete Mazzaccaro

As the school year enters its final six weeks, the future of Philadelphia’s public schools looks as grim as ever.

Short more than $300 million and having no interested parties willing to act to close the financing hole, the School District of Philadelphia has proposed a brutally austere budget that would limit nursing staff and eliminate art and music teachers, security officers and counselors.

The school district has asked for more funding. It would be funding that looks as if it would have to come from a tax increase locally, which City Council is not eager to do. The district has asked the state to give it $120 million, another amount that does not at this point seem likely.

Urban school districts have had an incredibly difficult time educating children and being fully funded for as long as I remember. And yet, as old as the problem is, the will to make changes – to actually fix the problem – remains elusive.

It’s easy to guess why that is. We’re not a nation that tends to care a whole lot about other people’s problems, particularly if we think they’re the problems of people who are poor – people who haven’t worked hard enough to move to a better school district. I’ll watch my block, you watch yours.

Instead of answering the real question: “Are we doing everything we can to make sure our children are getting a good education?” we debate about that which is difficult to quantify, such as optimal expense per student, and punish schools who score poorly on national tests, when reason should indicate those are precisely the schools that need the most help.

Politics aside, we’re allowing a pretty terrible thing to happen – we’re preventing thousands of children from getting a solid education in a school where they can feel safe and supported. The right thing to do is to do whatever it takes, regardless of money and regardless of established institutional safeguards. What we have doesn’t work. It’s time to figure out why and do something about it.

The effect of continued neglect of children – particularly at the early elementary levels – is devastating. Poor educational opportunities have dire consequences on future prospects –from mental well-being to socioeconomic achievement. Every year that goes by is an opportunity lost for these kids.

I won’t pretend to have answers on how we can fix schools. Clearly it’s easier said than done. We’ve been struggling with the issue for generations.

What we can do is recognize that education is an essential component of a healthy society. It should not be just about parents looking out for their kids. Whether you have kids or not, you have skin in this game. A better education now will absolutely lead to better future for everybody.

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