by Karel Kilimnik
For years, APPS members urged the SRC to take a more public role in advocating for Philadelphia’s public school students. We told them we would help fill the buses for any trip they organized to Harrisburg. Unfortunately, to no avail. We are happy to say that the Board of Education has stepped up to become vocal advocates for the students and families they have been entrusted to represent. The Board has created a prominent “Fund Our Schools” page on its website.The website provides guidance in ten languages for contacting elected officials, including a template for letters. The message: We cannot repeat the devastation caused by the massive budget cuts of the past from which we have still not recovered. We cannot carry out the layoffs and elimination of necessary resources which will cause untold harm to our students. It will take a village to keep our District whole as the economic crisis unfolds.
Countries across the globe struggle to deal with the coronavirus. Unemployment soars as businesses fail. Tax revenue supporting our schools has declined, for example, the liquor-by-the-drink tax. But, as Councilmember Helen Gym reminded fellow Councilmembers and District officials during last week’s hearings on the City budget, “Austerity is a choice.” City and District officials must work to find more revenue sources before talking about cutting educational and recreational services necessary for the well-being of our children. Collection of the city’s tax on unearned income has been inconsistent. Nonprofits must pay PILOTS. Real estate abatements must be phased out. APPS reiterates our long-held position that the Board must end the renewal of substandard charters, many operated by CEOs making exorbitant salaries. The District cannot afford any more charter expansion. Nor can it afford the outsourcing of services, which often ends up costing, not saving, money. The Board has rejected new charter applications for two consecutive years, but we need a moratorium on new charter schools. The District closed 23 neighborhood schools in 2013 with the promise of saving $22 million, but we never saw proof of savings, particularly after relocation and moving costs. We should not allow any crisis to be the justification for the loss of more neighborhood schools.