BY EMILY MAYER AND IAN GAVIGAN
Solidarity in the Suburbs — Support a Fundraiser for the Philadelphia Students Union
Thursday, October 24th at 8:30 pm
Lunt Café – Refreshments provided
$5-10 suggested donation
Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
On September 9th, as Haverford entered its second shopping week, the 136,000 students in Philadelphia’s public schools began the school year in buildings, with some teachers, principals, school police–and not much else. The budget passed by Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) this past May provides only $2.4 billion to the entire city school system, effectively cutting all other services except for those provided by “essential staff.” Counselors, nurses, secretaries, librarians, art teachers, janitors, you name it, all out the window. What remains is a system that seeks to temporarily house kids rather than educate them.
While Haverford contemplates high-end renovations to its already beautiful campus, public schools all over Philly are offering little more than the buildings themselves to their students. In the face of such glaring educational inequality, Haverford students have a responsibility to act in solidarity with those trying to save Philly’s schools and the future of equitable, accessible education.
The crisis is not a natural result of the failure or underfinancing of local or state politics, but a manufactured move by Governor Tom Corbett’s administration to prioritize the privatization of the school system through investing in charter schools and weakening the teachers unions. In the last two years, Gov. Corbett, cut around $1.1 billion in public education funding. Earlier in the year, the unelected school board of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission, voted to close 24 schools. Schools that remain open are mostly without assistant principals, guidance counselors, lunch aides and those who run after-school activities like music, arts, sports, and student clubs.
Reading statistics is different from hearing about the situation from students themselves. Our partner, the Philadelphia Students Union (PSU) is an organization that, according to its mission, “exists to build the power of young people to demand a high quality education in the Philadelphia public school system” and to make “positive changes in the short term by learning how to organize to build power.”
At one PSU meeting of high schools students in September, students reported classroom sizes between 30 to 60 students, teachers who personally purchased all their classroom supplies and shuttered libraries and computer labs. According to one student, students are now being asked to use personal computers for assignments, as teachers cannot afford to print out classroom materials, leaving those without access to technology empty-handed.
A lack of staff is both inconvient and unsafe for students attending the stripped-down schools. At one high school, students must now clean the entire cafeteria after lunch due to lack of maintenance staff. Two weeks ago, 12-year old Laporshia Massey passed away from complications due to asthma. There was no nurse at her school on that day. Had there been a full time nurse on staff — as there is in nearly every suburban public school — Laporshia would likely still be alive today.
It’s clear that the system is broken. Despite Corbett’s release of $45 million to the school district last week, money that school district officials say was crucial to operating the entire year, Philly schools are still operating without much-needed staff and resources.
Haverford students experience a high-quality education with the financial and social resources to pursue our intellectual and extracurricular goals. A consequence of our privileged experience should be a recognition that we are responsible to the students and community of Philadelphia to engage with this crisis. These are the very issues at stake in Philadelphia. Will students have opportunities not just to receive information, but also to learn and thrive? Will they develop the tools to attend places like Haverford? Cuts to services like college and guidance counselors endanger not only Philly public schools and students themselves, but also the very idea of education as a public trust and liberal arts colleges as places of economic and racial diversity.
Philadelphia’s students are a part of our community. Just as we seek to create a Haverford community that is equitable and just, regardless of socioeconomic status or race, we must advocate for the same principles in the greater communities of which we are a part. Our voices matter here, whether we make them visible through giving money, spreading awareness, or acting in solidarity with those experiencing the effects of this crisis.
Students, teachers, and unions in Philadelphia have been organizing marches and walk-outs to protest the budget cuts and attack on public education. Last May, over 5,000 high school students from across Philadelphia walked-out of school to protest cuts to their education.
Founded in 1995, PSU has engaged thousands of youth in its leadership training, political education, and organizing work. They believe that the student voice is critical in the fight for public education because students have the greatest stake in schools and school systems and because their first-hand experiences can help others understand the real life consequences of policies and practice.
Join us Thursday at 8:30 in Lunt Cafe to learn more about the crisis and PSU, and to discover ways you can make a difference. Beth Patel ’11, a Youth Media Organizer at PSU, will help facilitate the workshop. Come to learn, think, question, and act.