On Thursday night, Philadelphia's School Reform Commission (SRC) voted to close 23 schools, many of which have been chronically underfunded and starved of the resources and opportunities they need to serve their students. Hundreds of organizers and public education advocates, including many OTL allies, staged a massive rally to protest the closures. Nineteen people were arrested (and subsequently released), including Hiram Rivera, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Student Union, and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.
For more information on the fight to save Philadelphia's schools, read the statement below from the Philadelphia Student Union:
A Statement from the Philadelphia Student Union on School Closures
Yesterday, the SRC voted to close 23 public schools in Philadelphia. We, the members of the Philadelphia Student Union, know that these closures are just the beginning of a much larger plan. The District has already laid out a five-year plan of closures that will dismantle public education. Even though some schools have been spared from this round of closures, we know that schools that have not been closed this year will certainly be on the chopping block again in the coming years. We refuse to be placated by this tactic of “saving” schools from closure.
Of the schools students will be moving into, 16 are worse than their current school, 22 are better, and 20 are the same (based on AYP from the 2011-12 school year, from “School District of Philadelphia School Closings: An Analysis of Student Achievement”, Prepared by Research for Action, February 27, 2013). It is still unclear why the District is hiding behind a manufactured fiscal crisis and refused a moratorium on closures when so many of the community’s questions remain unanswered. With these closures affecting some 15,000 young people in the city of Philadelphia, we seriously doubt that issues of safety, climate, or quality education for all students will be resolved by the beginning of the 2013 school year.
We are disappointed in the members of the School Reform Commission for not standing with the people they were appointed to serve- the students. They chose to close schools instead of attempting to make them better. Wendell Pritchett, whose parents were both public school teachers in Philadelphia, chose to undermine the public school system that his parents worked to build up. Sylvia Simms has said that she wants to make sure “all …voices are heard by the powers that be”; however, we have yet to see her or other SRC members include youth voices in the school closings discussion. We counted on the SRC to make community-based decisions about the schools in our city. As students we are tired of being let down by public officials who we never elected and who do not seem to be fighting on the right side of public education.
We, at the Philadelphia Student Union, know that there are deeper roots to the issue of school closings. We find that these roots are, in part, a result from the chronic and systematic under-funding of public education. We also know that the SRC has not stood up to address these root causes. The SRC found it acceptable to only request $15 million more from the state, the same allocation proposed by Gov. Corbett in his budget, when they need hundreds of millions of dollars to keep our District running. Additionally, Pennsylvania has the means to contribute additional funding since the Governor’s proposed budget would provide $375 million in new business tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations in the state. The SRC has not, to this date, requested more funding from the state that our sorely under-resourced schools need. It is clear that they do not have the best interests of Philadelphia’s public school students in mind.
There is one thing we can do now, as young people and as a city. By organizing ourselves, we can win this fight and see created safe, quality schools for all students. We are going to keep fighting the systems and individuals for whom closing schools is a priority. We will engage and uplift the voices of those that are most intimately affected by the systematic undermining of public education. We will prepare ourselves for the next round of school closures, not only because we know they are coming but because we refuse to lay down and allow public education to be destroyed in front of our eyes.