Philly Community Mobilizes Against School Privatization
A woman, voice quivering slightly, says when it's her turn to speak: “We knew that what happened in Wisconsin last year would happen here too. This is going to be a huge fight.”
This meeting on the School Reform Commission's (SRC) drastic privatization of the Philadelphia School District - labeled by SRC head Thomas Knudsen as "decentralization - has convened at a renovated West Philadelphia church. Well over 50 people sit in a circle, a wide breadth of community members which include public school teachers, students, labor organizers, and seasoned activists that include members of Occupy Philadelphia.
“In a way, politicians and business interests co-opted the idea of decentralization,” says one activist. “It should be about giving power to communities to determine what they need.”
Not in the way the SRC and others have framed it, however.
The agenda tonight: crafting a response to what some here see as the “Shock Doctrine” being applied to Philadelphia public education. The reference is basically to an either or ultimatum proposition from the city: accept property tax hikes – which Mayor Michael Nutter says would raise upwards of $92 million, but would disproportionately affect low income residents - or let schools close.
Ron Whitehorne, a former teacher and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) member, says that there is no confidence in the SRC's plan among many school union members.
The SRC's plan, in essence, is to “decentralize” the school district and allow for-profit interests to turn public schools into charters.
“There is no proof that privatization is better,” adds Amanda, an SDS organizer. “All the articles which have come out on this issue since this plan was announced point out this fact.”
She has a point – public officials themselves have said recently that charter schools do not always produce better results compared to public schools, although there are charters which do perform well. Charters like this are definitely in the minority, however.
“I'm deeply concerned that corporations want to turn our schools into cash cows,” says one public school teacher to me. “They've succeeded so far in pitting their model against public schools – which is not what charter schools were created for. And I don't think putting our children's education in the hands of for-profit interests is wise.”
She adds that charters were supposed to be testing grounds, in essence, to come up with new ideas to improve public education. The concept was never intended to be used as a tool to privatize entire school districts, and certainly not to the extreme that officials are steering towards. Many here feel that political leadership are taking privatization as an easy – and by no means correct - solution to the education funding crisis. They point to tax abatements given to corporations, for instance, that could stave off this privatization effort.
The discussion turns to actual mobilization.
“There are three upcoming actions,” corresponding to three upcoming events, Ron Whitehorne tells me. These include a city council hearing today, Governor Tom Corbett's visit with the Chamber of Commerce on May 15th, and the final SRC vote on the 31st of this month. It is unclear what these actions will look like, he says, although direct action committees have been formed.
It is apparent that city officials who support this draconian privatization plan, as well as their wealthy benefactors, created such a small window for public reaction on purpose. And according to many assembled here, the power players' disdain for democracy is topped off with Mayor Nutter's request to the people of Philadelphia: “Grow up and deal with it.”
“The resonant theme here,” says Whitehorne to the assembled crowd “is democracy. The citizens have no real say in this. This [SRC] was not elected, and that's unacceptable.”
And judging by these concerned people, they think this is unacceptable too.
This was originally published at Techbook Online.