Still, the vultures are circling. There’s money to be made by siphoning taxpayers’ dollars to unaccountable charter and Catholic schools.
So today, wealthy donors gathered for a two-day conference ostensibly to “examine the most promising strategies to grow what works in all of a city’s schools—charter, district, and Catholic/private—and explore the challenges and benefits of a city-based, multischool sector strategy.”
My routine request to cover the conference was turned down by Cassandra McClellan, Meetings Coordinator for the Philanthropy Roundtable. McClellan wrote:
Thank you for your interest but our events are private and are not open to the media.
Isn’t that rich. A meeting to “increase the number of great K-12 options” is being held behind closed doors at the Union League. What are they hiding?
If they had any shame, they would want to hide the fact the co-founder of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which “will lead donors through a special discussion of investment strategies targeted at expanding great schools,” is looking for an investment strategy to escape bankruptcy.
PSP’s co-founder Michael O’Neill is Founder & CEO of Preferred Sands. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Preferred Sands Holding Co., a closely held supplier to oil-and-gas drillers, has hired restructuring advisers as it battles a high debt load and weak operating results, people familiar with the matter said.
The company may file for bankruptcy protection though it is still examining opportunities for an out-of-court restructuring, these people said. Barclays PLC—the company’s lender along with KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.—could provide a debtor-in-possession loan in the event of a Chapter 11 filing, they added.
Now get this: In addition to leading his company to the brink of bankruptcy, O’Neill is a staunch supporter of Catholic schools. He is the Chairman of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools. It strains one’s faith to suggest O’Neill has any interest in strengthening traditional public schools.
By the way, Chris Bravacos, President and CEO of the Bravo Group, is also on PSP’s board of directors. Last year, I sounded the alarm about his role in promoting Pennsylvania’s voter ID scheme.
Public schools and voting are at the heart of our democracy. In the birthplace of our democracy, both institutions are under attack. In 2012, it was the assault on voting rights. Today, the same forces behind the push for restrictive photo ID laws are spearheading the assault on traditional public schools.
The new school year got off to a rocky start in Philadelphia.
Students must navigate the school system without guidance counselors. About 60 percent of all schools do not have a full-time counselor. A group of 16 ‘itinerant’ counselors will serve eight schools with a combined enrollment of 48,000 students. Do the math: That’s one counselor for 3,000 students.
The failure to fund basic education means in some schools, students will have to “hold it” because there are no hall monitors to unlock the bathroom doors.
Education for a Better America seeks to promote, fund and sponsor educational systems that serve the needs of students in urban communities. Philadelphia is dealing with a major crisis in public education. The children in Philadelphia deserve better. The focus should be on closing the achievement gap, not closing schools.
Ms. Sharpton asked:
If there are no guidance counselors, who will help students apply for college and financial aid?
The concern about the defunding of Philly’s public schools was echoed by speaker after speaker, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
While noting he has no direct control over the school district, Nutter said:
We need a new and real education funding formula across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…There’s not one reason in the world that the things we have asked Harrisburg to do have not happened. If you’re not going to help us, let us help ourselves.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry T. Jordan said help is long overdue:
After many years of underfunding, our children are in the position where they are not getting the basics…They don’t have access to libraries because librarians have been laid off. They can’t access resources at multimillion dollar libraries…Class sizes have ballooned. Some classes have 40, 50, 60 children.
Jordan questioned whether the facilities should be called public schools:
Philadelphia schools have been starved to the point where it’s almost unfair to call them public schools.
It’s criminal for the state to abandon its responsibility to provide an adequate education. Gov. Corbett says teachers should pay for the deficit out of their pockets. He’s withholding $45 million until he’s satisfied that teachers have given up enough.
Jordan said we must move beyond “band-aid solutions to get us through another school year.”
Sharpton denounced a solution that scapegoats teachers who are on the frontline:
We need to bust that up and fight for the right to a public education. It will inspire children because they will know someone cares about them… We need an education movement to show in the name of Dr. King that education is a civil right. We cannot fulfill the dream without fighting for quality education.
He questioned the Governor’s priorities:
You got money, Corbett, for jails, but no money for schools. And you ask what's wrong with the kids? I come to ask, “What's wrong with you?” Bible says that you reap what you sow. Well, if you invest in jails and cut the budget on schools, you’re investing in incarceration rather than education.
Sharpton plans to expose what’s happening in Philadelphia on his MSNBC show, “PoliticsNation”:
The whole world needs to know that in the City of Brotherly Love they are building jails and closing schools…The whole world needs to know what’s happening here in Philadelphia. Unelected officials have destabilized the city and children’s right to a quality education.
We will take the veil off the city. We will not lie. We want you to stand buck naked before the world and let them see what’s happening here.
There are no new books, no art or music, few guidance counselors and no plan to provide IEP services as mandated by federal and state law. Roughly 14 percent of the school district’s 136,000 students are in special education, which includes homeless, foster and gifted children.
On Feb. 28, 2013, 7000 Villagers filed a class action lawsuit to stop the school closings and protect the interests of students who under federal and state law are classified as “special needs” students. The school district is required to develop and implement an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each special needs student. The lawsuit is about shared sacrifice (publicly funded charter and cyber schools are not subject to the “doomsday budget”), transparency and accountability. The bottom line: Follow the money.
It bears remembering that Gov. Tom Corbett runs Philly schools through the unelected School Reform Commission.
One of the highlights will be the unveiling of a limited-edition 1963 March on Washington stamp. The Forever stamp will be the third in a trilogy of civil rights stamps.
For the first time, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a stamp simultaneously online via Facebook and onsite at the Newseum. You can help digitally unveil the stamp artwork by adding your Facebook or Twitter profile to the March on Washington Stamp Mosaic. Each individual photo will unveil a small piece of the artwork, becoming a pixel in the virtual stamp mosaic. As more people contribute to the mosaic, more pieces of the stamp will be revealed. At the same time you will be taking a stand for equality.
At the first-day-of-issue ceremony, actress Gabrielle Union will submit her Facebook profile which will trigger the unveiling of the full stamp artwork.
The new Forever stamps are part of the Postal Service’s celebration of the civil rights movement:
The U.S. Postal Service is celebrating the best of
America with several limited-edition stamps in 2013. This includes the Civil Rights set, which praises the honorable qualities of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
This set recognizes the courage of Rosa Parks; freedom embodied in the Emancipation Proclamation; and equality marked by the March on Washington.