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Letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Philadelphia schools


June 28, 2013

The Honorable Arne Duncan Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan,

We are writing to ask for your urgent intervention to preserve public education for the children of Philadelphia.

Due to draconian budget cuts, the public schools of Philadelphia are being starved to the point where they can no longer function for the city's children. Philadelphia is in a state of crisis. We believe your direct and public intervention is required to ensure the existence of educational opportunity in that city.

The cuts imposed on the schools by the School Reform Commission and the state have led to layoffs of nearly 4,000 educators and school employees. This will have a permanent, crippling impact on a generation of children.

Philadelphia’s children will lose art, music, physical education, libraries and the rich learning environments they need and deserve. Everything that helps inspire and engage students will be gone. The schools will lose social workers, school nurses, counselors, paraprofessionals and teachers. Classrooms will be more crowded, denying children the attention they need. Sports and extracurricular activities will be gutted as well as after-school programs that help keep kids safe and engaged. And children will be denied the social, emotional and health services they need. All of these cuts, on top of the mass school closings, have a disproportionate effect on African-American students, English language learners and students from low-income families.

Third-grade teacher Hillary Linardopoulos told us that her school, Julia de Burgos, a North Philadelphia K-8 school, is getting an influx of 250 students due to the mass school closings, while at the same time the school is being forced to lay off a third of the staff.

The Andrew Jackson School, a vibrant neighborhood public school, is losing school aides, its counselor, its secretary, its security monitor, several teachers and even its music teacher, who worked tirelessly to find resources and seek donations for the school’s celebrated rock band. And they won’t have money for books, paper or even the school nurse.

The Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts has a beautiful dance studio, but it is losing its dance instructor, plus nearly a dozen other staff.

The budget bludgeoning of these schools and the gutting of their programs are likely to cause students to drop out. When public officials send students the message that they don't matter, that their education is of no concern to those in power, students get the message and give up on themselves and their dreams.

Right now, the Pennsylvania Legislature is set to pass a budget that fails to adequately fund schools while at the same time dedicating $400 million for a new prison and pushing through a set of tax breaks for corporations. This is on top of $1 billion in education cuts over the past two years.

The Legislature is prepared to ignore the pleas of thousands of students, teachers, parents and community members who have called on the governor and Legislature to fairly and adequately fund Philadelphia’s public schools. A group of Philadelphians are so concerned about the impact of these cuts that they’ve been on a hunger strike, having exhausted every other option to get the attention of the governor and state Legislature.

The people of Pennsylvania do not support the abandonment of the children and public schools of Philadelphia. According to a recent poll by Lake Research, voters want the governor and Legislature to increase the funding of public schools.

Secretary Duncan, both you and President Obama have spoken numerous times about the importance of investing in our schools, teachers and students. The children of Philadelphia need your support now.

On behalf of the students, educators and families of Philadelphia, we ask you to publicly intervene. Reach out to Gov. Corbett and the state Legislature to seek additional funding for Philadelphia’s schools. Do not let them die. The children of Philadelphia need your help. Do not let them down.

Sincerely,

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Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers
Diane Ravitch 
Historian, New York University