Dustin Slaughter

Dustin Slaughter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
August 27
Writer, photojournalist, and activist. Interests: political movements, criminal justice, and surveillance.

Editor’s Pick
MAY 9, 2012 12:28PM

Philly Community Mobilizes Against School Privatization

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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.

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good series in the Inquirer. Basically it comes down to the laziness of government (being charitable) in knowing funds are being mismanaged/misspent and instead of doing complete independent audit which will hit administrators, contractors etc decides its an inherent problem. This maybe two years since the last of Mayor Street's School Superintendents left with her bags of lucre. Urban schools have all the issues of urban environments so they can be either the beginning of solution which is slow, ugly, and politically dangerous or of the surrender which is quick and profitable.

And by the Bye- less than a month since a charter was found to have misappropriated millions.
Charters, in theory, could be quite successful. It should be easier for a school board to put a school charter contract up for new bids if they are unhappy with results than to figure out how to turn around a failing school.

The problem is that this requires careful and impartial oversight and the reality is that charter companies will contribute to school board members' re-election campaigns and will lobby heavily.
Wow, you guys really have a fight on your hands. Universal compulsory education becomes universal corporate education. Ugh.
We know the state of the public school system that they are trying to save in Philly. It's not the greatest. In fact it's one of the worse and it didn't get that way overnight. So if you apply the "insanity test" why would you want to keep doing the same thing over and over? Don't tell me you can or you are going to fix it. You should have done that years ago.

“There is no proof that privatization is better,” adds Amanda, an SDS organizer.

If you want to test that statement then look at what happened in New Orleans after their school district got wiped almost out. They went to charter schools to get the schools going again. Test scores are up, graduation is up, drop outs are down, kids can READ. It's a winner.
I've been following the story in Philadelphia for a number of years. Parents are voting with their feet--the district schools have lost 25% of their enrollment over the past decade--and choosing charter schools, whose enrollment has tripled. Some Democrats (here and elsewhere) are finally coming around to the logical view that school choice is power to the people, something they claim to believe in-- except when they need the teachers union's money to run for office.