A coalition of parents, students, community members and faith leaders in Philadelphia is threatening to boycott the start of the school year if the district doesn't receive the funds it needs to safely open and staff the city's public schools.
Philadelphia has been in the midst of a funding crisis for the past several months, facing a "doomsday" education budget that leaves it with a $340 million deficit. District officials have been forced to cut resources like after-school programs and has laid off nearly 4,000 employees. Still, schools will likely open this fall without assistant principals, secretaries or counselors, and fewer teachers. Earlier this year, officials voted to close 23 schools, disproportionately impacting students of color and students from low-income families.
The district originally requested $180 million dollars in aid from the state saying that was the minimum level of additional funding needed to safely operate schools this fall. Superintendent William Hite recently lowered his ask to just $50 million, giving the state an ultimatumtp provide at least that much or schools would not open on time. Still lacking aid from the state, Philadelphia city officials decided this week to give Hite the funds he asked for by taking on $50 million in new debt.
The community coalition is taking Hite's ultimatum a step further, threatening to boycott the start of school if the state doesn't give the full $180 million. Reverend Kevin Johnson, who is leading the call for a boycott, told NBC news "If they come back with less than $180 million, then we are calling on every parent not to send your child to an unsafe school."
Helen Gym, a parent advocate, spoke at a community meeting:
"We're looking at funding schools so that buildings can open, rather than funding schools that can educate children. The money that [Hite] asked for is necessary but not sufficient to operate our schools. That's just a terrible and dangerous standard for our district to put out there."
Covering the funding crisis for Salon, reporter Aaron Kase hasn't been pulling any punches to expose the real cause of the city's inequitable funding system and its implications for other districts across the country:
"The pattern has become clear: defund the schools, precipitate a crisis and use that as an excuse to further attack the schools, pushing them closer and closer to a point of no return. The $50 million to open the schools this year is just the latest and most immediate example of three years of brinkmanship."