Philly schools chief talks about budget crisis at NBC education summit

     Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite used the bully pulpit Monday at NBC’s “Education Nation” summit to bring national attention to the school district’s budget crisis.

    “Resources matter, especially in urban centers,” he said. “Per-pupil funding matters. … It was cut over $300 million last year, and the year before that, another $100 million.”

    The Philadelphia School District’s massive budget gap has led to major programmatic cutbacks and layoffs. The city’s schools now have 3,000 fewer employees than in June.

    Hite spoke on a panel titled, “What It Takes: Keeping Up with the Competition,” which focused on how U.S. schools stack up in comparison with those around the world. It also featured journalist Amanda Ripley, Newark teacher Syrena Burnam and advocacy group America Achieves co-founder Jon Schnur.

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    “We were faced with a scenario where we would have schools without individuals in cafeterias and hallways, without individuals to answer the phone, without assistant principals, without guidance counselors,” Hite said. “That’s not a conversation that we should be having as we’re beginning to talk about global competitiveness.”

    Still, Hite said, he is working to make sure that Philly’s students keep pace with kids in other nations.

    “Even with all of our challenges, we’ve been able to invest in new types of schools,” he said, “and turn around different types of schools to become unique models.”

    Critics say the district is pouring more money into certain schools at the expense of others.

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