08/23/2013

Thousands rally for Philadelphia schools

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Only 18 days before public school students were scheduled to return to classrooms, teachers, school staff, students, parents and supporters with the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools marched through the streets on Aug. 22, demanding that big business, the mayor, the governor and the School Reform Commission do their part to fully fund Philadelphia's schools.

Jerry Jordan

The protesters marched from Comcast Center past City Hall to the School District of Philadelphia headquarters, culminating in a massive rally outside the School Reform Commission meeting. They denounced the notion that students, parents and teachers should continue to bear the brunt of slashed funding. The $50 million that the city last week agreed to borrow in order to open buildings on time will not restore the staff, supplies and programming needed for kids to succeed, warned Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president.

"What about the children?" Jordan repeatedly implored at the demonstration. "We are out here not for ourselves, but for Philly's children. We will not stop fighting for them until we get full, fair funding."

"We have one thing to say to the people inside: Shame on you!" said Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania and an AFT vice president, as the rally heated up outside the school district headquarters.

Christa Rivers, a student at Girls High School and a member of Youth United for Change, told the crowd, "Now we end here at the school district to protect our teachers because they are not being supported by the district. Our teachers are being used as scapegoats for the state's poor decisions around budget cuts. We students also deserve better. As a student in a Philadelphia public school, I feel like we are being pushed under a rug and left to our own devices."

Philadelphia rally

Teddy Daniels, a janitor at Spruance Elementary School and the father of two boys in the school, said, "What's happening to our schools is no accident—far from it. This is a manufactured crisis brought on us by Gov. Corbett. He has demonstrated time and time again that he doesn't care if Philly public schools fail."

The march drew support from outside of Philadelphia, as well. Faith leaders from POWER and the PICO National Network participated as part of their national bus ride that will converge in Washington, D.C., for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And student activists from a number of East Coast cities also came into town to show their support.

Tre Murphy, a student and member of the Baltimore Algebra Project, traveled to Philadelphia to tell the crowd: "This city has failed its students and teachers. I am part of a national network of student groups, and we are all working together to help you all put pressure on Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter to do what's right for students and schools." [Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, Philadelphia Inquirer/photos by Laurie Beck]