Back to school FAQ

Photo: Philadelphia Public School Notebook
Photo: Philadelphia Public School Notebook

(You can download this FAQ and an action flyer below)

What’s going on?

School is opening on September 9th after the District received a $50 million promise from the city of Philadelphia to get its doors open.

How will my school be affected?

Every school has been given one principal, one secretary, a building engineer, the contractually mandated number of teachers, and two noon time aides. Principals received an allotment based on “school need” which they could use to purchase more staff. However, most have chosen aides since that is all they can afford. Parents should be prepared for the following:

  • overcrowded classes and split grades
  • no full time guidance counselors for schools < 600 students; this means 60% of all schools, and 50% of high schools
  • one guidance counselor for schools larger than 600
  • roving counselor team for special education emergencies only
  • one nurse per 1500 students
  • NO full time librarians
  • one assistant principal for schools larger than 850 students
  • insufficient, and in many cases, zero dollars for books and supplies

What is the current financial situation?

The District requested a $180 million “rescue package” from the city and state last spring. This is money above what is allotted for schools through the normal city and state budget process.

  • Of the $120 million requested from the state, the state has delivered only $2 million.
  • Of the $60 million from the city, the City has given $28 million and promised another $50 million. The Mayor and Council disagree over how the money will go to the schools.

The state claims it has put more money into schools than ever before. What’s the real story?

The state has announced its new media blitz “A Historic Investment” in public schools. The reality is far from the truth. Check out Senator Vincent Hughes’ graphic that very clearly shows the drop in investment for Philadelphia schools in the 2011-2012 school year (the first year Corbett’s budget went into effect). Below Philadelphia’s share is a list of key areas which the state defunded across the Commonwealth.

Source: Senator Vincent Hughes
Source: Senator Vincent Hughes

Is there any additional money that could come to the District?

  • The state is holding onto $45 million in federal funds due to the district. Corbett demands “teacher concessions” before he releases the funds.
  • The state has refused to pass legislation that would allow the city to put a $2/pack cigarette tax on Philadelphians, an amount supposedly garnering up to $90 million.
  • Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez has asked the city to appropriate $50 million from its general fund revenues, but the city has currently refused to do so.

What about the teachers contract?

The primary burden has now fallen to the teachers union to commit $133 million in givebacks primarily through wage/benefit cuts, no additional pay for advanced degrees, and elimination of seniority. Clearly the district will save money by converting to a low-wage, de-professionalized work force that doesn’t reward for experience or professional advancement. But will it make Philadelphia schools a better place for children and those who care and teach them?

What are our legal options to seek fair funding from the state?

Philadelphia has tried twice (1976 and 1999) to get the state courts to help it get more funding and failed. In both cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the state constitution placed the power to decide appropriate education funding in the legislature, not the courts. It’s important to remember that legal suits, even in states where it has been successful, have taken years before additional money gets to underfunded districts; in other words, it’s not a short-term solution. Currently, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center are working to potentially bring a  funding case with many school districts so that the courts can see this is a statewide problem, not a Philadelphia one.

In the short-term, there may be a case that the state has failed to provide enough funds to meet federal requirements for special education service. Courts require an offense to happen before a suit can be filed. Therefore, school must start and students need to be denied services before a case can be brought.

Who’s active in this struggle citywide?

There are a number of groups engaged in this struggle. Various Home and School Associations are extremely active citywide. PCAPs is a broad coalition working to organize protests and marches. Education Voters PA is working on local, state and federal lobbying. Active student groups include the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, Philadelphia Freedom Schools, and the Silent Student Movement. P.O.W.E.R. is an interfaith coalition of 41 congregations which has made education one of its top priority issues. In terms of staff, Teacher Action Group and the PFT have active mobilization efforts. Guidance counselors have formed a Philly Counselors Unite group, and school nurses have come together citywide as an active force for health care rights in schools.

What can parents do?

  1. Lobby for your local school: It’s more than fundraising and showing up at the monthly parent meetings. Our schools need parents as vocal advocates. Wear your school t-shirt, carry a sign with your school name, testify on your school’s behalf, write a letter to the editor. Know your school’s needs, prioritize what you want, and work with as many parents as you can to get it.
  2. Target your elected officials: There are many problems with the district, but right now it’s all about FUNDING, FUNDING, FUNDING. That means our city and state officials need to feel the heat. They should not get a single day’s rest if our children are going to schools in unsafe conditions unfit for learning. Call and schedule visits. Write letters and be as relentless with them as they are with us in withholding the funds our schools need.
  3.  Build unity across coalitions: This isn’t just about our individual schools. Our strongest role as parents is to send a unified message across geographic lines and for all schools that public education matters. Build lobbying groups that reflect your school and community. Don’t forget to include neighborhood civic associations, businesses, and other academic and community sponsors to speak for your school
  4. Remain hopeful: Doing this work – especially in crisis – is hard and often feels slow and defeating. Find ways to support yourself and one another. Take time to celebrate your accomplishments. Build a new generation of parent leaders to continue your work.

Download this FAQ for printing here:

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