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Rescue package needed

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

If a natural disaster – say a hurricane – were to hit Philadelphia, city leaders wouldn’t dare say, “Sorry, there’s no money.” They would find a way to respond to the urgent needs – and to pay for it.

With schools lacking basic materials and student supports, it’s disheartening that the mayor and City Council aren’t speaking up about the need to do something now to address that calamity. Do they think we can just ride out this year … or that conditions are not that bad?

Or maybe they think they’ve gotten what they can from city and state coffers, and are waiting for the teachers’ union to agree to concessions? The idea that union givebacks should provide the biggest chunk of the District’s gap-closing plan did originate with city and District leaders.

Negotiations over benefits and other contract reforms are needed, but cutting teacher pay when working conditions are at a low ebb is no way to build a quality workforce – not when dedicated educators are wondering how long they can hang on.

The current situation is calamitous for students, educators, and the city’s economy. Thousands of families must be wondering whether the city has a viable school system and looking at other options.

It’s true that cutbacks in state funding triggered this crisis, whereas the city has been providing regular increases to schools over the past few years. But regardless of the state’s actions, Philadelphia ultimately is responsible for its schoolchildren. The city should send a message about its priorities by providing a rescue aid package to the system that will put needed services back in schools.

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