Every Philadelphian has a role to play in school funding

     Emani Edwards, 9, and Khyair Goodwin, 7, participate in a protest against school budget cuts at Philadelphia City Hall on April 29, 2013. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    Emani Edwards, 9, and Khyair Goodwin, 7, participate in a protest against school budget cuts at Philadelphia City Hall on April 29, 2013. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    Every single resident, every single business owner, every Philadelphia politician, every city power broker has a stake in the 200,000 students in Philadelphia schools. Each of us can do something to push for more and more stable school funding — for this year’s budget and for longer-term solutions. The time to do it is now.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    Oh, Philadelphia! Why are you so quietly letting your schools go down? Why are you letting the education of 200,000 students — pre-K to grade 12, including charters — slide into the toilet?

    Oh, Council! Oh, Mayor! Stop the excuses, the finger pointing, and the recitation of selective political history. Your obligation is to no one but our 200,000 students, whose education is in jeopardy. We need you to speak with one voice and act in unison on our children’s behalf. The budget you passed sets a stage, gave the district only a small portion of what it needed. Now the hard work in Harrisburg begins. You must fight for us there too.

    Oh, Philadelphia delegation to the General Assembly! Do not be beguiled by the State Capitol’s beautiful halls and its well-dusted, well-appointed boardrooms. Do not fall in love with your own proposals and press releases at the cost of all compromise or progress. Remember the hot, grim realities of our Philly school buildings, and remember that our students deserve better. If you are not fighting for us in Harrisburg as a team, if you do not win more money for Philadelphia’s schools because of infighting, ego and incompetence, shame on you. You are better than that.

    Oh, fellow parents! You professional, bright, ambitious parents — especially parents of color — why have you been so quiet? It is beyond the 11th hour. There is no financial cavalry coming over the hill to rescue our children’s education. We have to rescue it ourselves. Call your state legislators every blasted day to demand increased public school funding and support for the enabling legislation Philadelphia needs for the cigarette tax. Ask friends and family in the Pennsylvania suburbs to call their legislators on your children’s behalf to help build statewide support for resolving the plight of Philadelphia’s 200,000 school children. Use your contacts to reach into the halls of power and demand that legislators stop playing political football with our children’s future.

    Oh, parents in poverty! Do what you can to defend your children’s education and demand an equitable education funding law — something 47 out of 50 U.S. states have! This fight needs your presence and your voices desperately.

    Oh, Johnny “Doc” Dougherty! Ye of the unelected political pull, where does your International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers send members’ children to be educated? The suburbs? Catholic schools? If the liquor tax is “a dumb tax” — as you whispered so effectively to our elected councilmembers and state legislators — what is your solution to fixing Philadelphia schools’ $304 million deficit? Bring forth your public school funding alternatives now. Use your powers for good — or else the ignorance, poverty, incarceration and thwarted careers of Philadelphia’s children will be on your head.

    Oh, bright, activist-minded hipsters! Do you want to stay in this city you have come to love? Or will you, once you have children, realize with quiet horror and resignation that you have to move out of Philadelphia if your offspring are to have a decent education? Go into the schools near where you live. Would you send your children there? This is your battle too. Engage.

    Oh Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce! Oh, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp! Oh, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation! Oh, Ben Franklin Technology Partners! You know that a failing K-12 educational base will be the economic millstone on the Philadelphia region’s development neck for decades to come. Mobilize your business members and your sister organizations to defend this city’s future. Press releases and media soundbites aren’t enough. We need phone calls and face-to-face meetings campaigning in Harrisburg on Philly students’ behalf.

    Oh property owners, residential and commercial! Do you want more crime? Lower property values? Fewer long-term renters? Then sit on the sidelines, sit on your hands and ignore this fight.

    Oh city realtors! Ye who have benefited from the city’s rebound, are you lending your voices to this fight? Are you protecting your interests? What will you say to your young buyers about local schools next year? Will you lie? Or gloss over the probable, horrible truth — that the improvements seen within our local schools in recent years have disappeared because our local and state legislators failed our children, and that there is no more flexibility to transfer from a poor-performing neighborhood school into a better one? The better schools are all full, and the improving schools will lose their gains without proper funding and staffing.

    Every single resident, every single business owner, every Philadelphia politician, every city power broker has a stake in the 200,000 students in Philadelphia schools. Each of us can do something to push for more and more stable school funding—for this year’s budget and for longer-term solutions. The time to do it is now.

    Janet Pinkerton is a Bella Vista resident, freelance writer and Masterman mom.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was slightly revised form its original form following the actions of City Council on Thursday.

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