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First day of school inspires fears and hopes

Photo: Kevin McCorry/WHYY

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

Ben Franklin High School student Brian Burney arrived at school early on the first day of classes.

Before the first bell, he joined a crowd of education activists gathered on North Broad Street to raise awareness of the plight of Philadelphia public schools.

Call it civics in the streets, poli-sci on the sidewalk, communications on the corner.

"For most students, the buildings feel less like schools and more like jails," he said over a small speaker, car horns beeping behind him in support. "I feel like we’re being treated like criminals, because every morning, security and cops put our bags through X-ray machines and we have to go through metal detectors and then be screened again with metal detector wands."

Burney and the dozens of other protesters decried the cuts to classroom spending that were made as stimulus funding dried up at the beginning of Tom Corbett’s term as Pennsylvania governor.

"Instead of spending money on policing us, that money should be spent on more cleaning supplies, nurses and counselors," said Burney, a member of the Philadelphia Student Union.

Despite months of intense advocacy for additional school funding, schools opened Monday with fewer resources than last year – when the shortage of guidance counselors, nurses and support staffers routinely made headlines.

This year, those deficiencies remain, in addition to further cuts to building maintenence, school police and special education.

The District’s current budget assumes that state lawmakers will reach consensus on a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes in Philadelphia when they return from summer break on Sept.15. If revenue collections do not begin by October, District officials say, additional cuts and layoffs will be necessary.

Corbett supports passage of a stand-alone bill.

Although the measure bounced between the House and Senate this summer in a game of legislative pingpong, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has pledged swift approval.

As classes began at Ben Franklin, a coalition of education advocates led by Public Citizens for Children and Youth began a daylong rally at Corbett’s Philadelphia office on South Broad Street.

Parents and politicians, including State Rep. Michelle Brownlee, D-Philadelphia, read letters written to the governor by students.

"’We need to have a nurse in our school every day because some people get [bloody], and they need a nurse,’" Brownlee read. "These children tell the truth. We need nurses, we need counselors, we need secretaries. We need support for our teachers and our children."

‘Hope and possibility’

Superintendent William Hite and Mayor Nutter kicked off the start of classes at the LINC (Learning in New Concepts), one of the District’s three new innovative, non-selective admission high schools. These are schools that reimagine the high school experience by focusing on competency-based objectives and project-based learning.

Hite clearly made this the center of his first day to draw media attention to what he sees as one of the District’s bright spots.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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