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Protesters fight to save Philly schools from ‘doomsday’ budget

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

by Mark McHugh

Hundreds of public education supporters gathered outside Philadelphia’s School District headquarters Thursday afternoon to protest the proposed bare-bones budget that the School Reform Commission voted to pass later that night.

The ensuing budget cuts will eliminate several school elements next year that many find indispensable, including sports, music, arts, guidance counselors, librarians, and support staff.

The protest began an hour before the SRC meeting started at 5:30 p.m. Several members of the community took the stage to rally the raucous crowd, where many wore red to display their unity. A series of impassioned speeches and angry chants filled the hour before the meeting.

Many who did not wield a microphone, however, had a lot to say as well.

“The governor, since he’s taken office, has put more money into prisons than he has into education,” said Amelia Loughlin, who teaches autistic children at Feltonville School of the Arts and Sciences. “The children that we work with come from high-needs areas. They cannot afford to go out and take private music lessons.”

Of course, that is just what thousands of children will have to do if they wish to continue their involvement in music, if the approved budget is not changed by next fall.

Jesse Mell, an instrumental music teacher in the District, said he thinks cutting music and the arts will result in a lost support base for a significant portion of the student population.

“What [music] does is gives you a chance to take kids and work with them on character development and study-skill development and all the things that help them deal with life, become better people, and have an outlet for their expressions,” Mell said.

He added that the fulfillment that students get through music cannot be found in a classroom of 35 kids.

Like Loughlin, Mell attributed the current crisis to the state government.

“I think that a big problem has been not enough people have taken action in Harrisburg. The governor and the legislature cut all the money to education a few years ago, which caused the avalanche of underfunding that’s affected us for the last three years,” Mell said.

Equally as passionate were the throngs of students — from elementary to high school age — that came out to demonstrate their concerns.

Michael Palamountain, a senior from Central High School, was not shy in voicing his outrage. His voice boomed amid the chanting and yelling.

“I’m graduating this year,” Palamountain said. “But I’m here today because what I’m looking at in this budget for next year is scaring me. My friends and my teachers and my counselors and everyone I know and everyone I love in my school and in the School District is going to be decimated.”

Palamountain’s vision of a school without the extracurriculars that allow kids to participate in healthy activities and form lasting relationships was not optimistic.

“It would be a prison,” he said.

Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.

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