AFT urges Duncan to intervene to help Philly students

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In response to multiple attacks on the Philadelphia public schools—mass closings, budget cuts and huge layoffs—AFT president Randi Weingarten and noted education historian Diane Ravitch sent a letter on July 1 to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, urging him to intervene and seek additional funds for Philadelphia from Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Legislature.

"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," they wrote to Duncan. "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."

Here are just a few examples of how these cuts are hurting Philadelphia's children: 

  • They 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 afterschool 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 says 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.

At the same time, the state is spending $400 million on a new prison.

These cuts also follow a secret poll that was recently released showing that Gov. Corbett could score political points for his re-election by attacking teachers and their union in Philadelphia. The governor's latest funding plan follows the advice of that poll instead of living up to his responsibility to help kids.

The AFT is urging members to stand with Philadelphia by adding their names to the letter. Read the full letter and take action. [Dan Gursky, Marcus Mrowka]

July 1, 2013