This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia public school students have gotten a harsh civics lesson this spring. Preventing catastrophic budget cuts that may ultimately affect 200,000 city children seems not to be an urgent matter to many elected officials.
Having just seen 24 schools closed, District students now are faced with losing their counselors, librarians, office staff, assistant principals, art and music, sports, all enrichment opportunities – things that make a school a school. The educators who run or work in the schools have been in limbo for weeks, having no idea what resources they will have or how they will function if the $300 million budget gap is not closed.
Awakening from a long slumber, city leaders have at least started debating how to raise funds. But in Harrisburg, which has control over Philadelphia schools, officials shrug and say they don’t know if they can help – and in any event, they want reforms first.
The lesson is that some politicians are willing to put other people’s children in the middle of a game of chicken and risk educational catastrophe in pursuit of an ideological agenda like ending teacher seniority rights or taming the “educational-industrial complex.”
In the face of all this, thousands of Philadelphia students responded by walking out of school. Their message: “Education is non-negotiable.” They are doing the right thing.
Those in charge – the governor, the legislature, the mayor, and City Council – need to ensure that students and schools have funds for the basics (we’re not even talking about extras here). Then discuss a reform agenda. Don’t hold schools, children, and an entire system hostage.