In a recent “Dispatch from Philadelphia,” Colorlines’ Julianne Hing wrote:
“Budget crisis” is too tame a phrase to describe what’s happening in Philadelphia right now. The cuts hit bone. Nurses, counselors, teachers, lunchroom aides, assistant principals and librarians were eliminated. On Sept. 25, a sixth-grader named Laporshia Massey passed away after she suffered an asthma attack at school. Massey’s school didn’t have a nurse, and her family argued one could have saved their daughter’s life. In fact, during the budget crisis, school nurses warned that cuts to nursing staff would hurt student academic performance and endanger student safety. Three weeks after Massey’s death, amidst public outcry, Gov. Corbett released $45 million in state money to rehire some teachers, counselors and other support staff. Corbett had been withholding the money on the demand that the teachers union hand over further concessions in their contract standoff. When he released the funds, Corbett’s administration made sure to mention that he wasn’t doing it because of Massey.
The budget crisis in Philadelphia, in cutting as deep as it has, highlights the fact that schools are so much more than buildings that house desks and kids, and that education is much more than classroom learning and testing. Schools are lifelines in communities, often functioning as the hub in a neighborhood. Nurses, counselors, assistant principals, music teachers and librarians play crucial roles in sustaining those communities and keeping children afloat. Take counselors, for instance, who do so much more than settle class schedules and lay out college brochures. At the start of November, 80 counselors laid off in the midst of the crisis were returned to Philadelphia schools so that every high school will have at least one counselor, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. But the damage was done for many students. Not having counselors around for nearly two months at the beginning of the school year left them without guides through the testing and college application maze. Some schools even declined to offer PSATs, which prep students for the SATs, because they didn’t have counselors to coordinate the tests.
Students are acutely aware that Corbett is investing in incarceration rather than education.