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May Day will be busy: Teachers organize day of advocacy, SRC to vote on charter renewals

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

Monday, May 1, is proving to be a major day of activity in the world of Philadelphia education. In the morning, educators from several schools, most with contingents from the activist Caucus of Working Educators, plan to stay out of school and participate in May Day protests to draw attention to issues of "economic, racial, and educational justice." The biggest issue: continued lack of a teachers’ contract. The stalemate between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the SRC is now in its fifth year. Most teachers have seen no raises during that time. The District’s tight financial picture — primarily a result of charter expansion and the state’s outdated and mostly inadequate education funding system — is a major factor in the longstanding impasse. The WE teachers are linking their lack of a contract to other labor fights, such as that for a $15 minimum wage, as well as to campaigns for immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter and fair housing. “We believe it is past time to to advocate for our students beyond the classroom and take our message directly to the streets," said Feltonville Arts and Science teacher Amy Roat in a statement. "Our struggle as workers is directly tied to the plight of all Philadelphians, who all want a fair wage for an honest day’s work." The teachers plan to conduct informational pickets outside schools at 7:30, assemble on the steps of school district headquarters at 440 N. Broad Street for a “Grade-In” at 10 a.m. and then march to City Hall to join a rally at noon with Un Día Sin Immigrant, Black & Brown Bodies. They will also meet with City Council members. At 3:45, a group of teachers will gather at Lea School in West Philadelphia to talk about why they are leaving the District at an acction called the PFT Educator Exit Rally, citing the lack of a contract and school conditions. "Our working conditions are our students learning conditions," said Franklin Learning Center teacher Jessica Way in a statement. "Students deserve small classes, clean drinking water, safe buildings, support services, technology, and, above all else, high quality teachers. The district cannot give students the highly qualified, committed educators they deserve unless we have a contract that will attract and retain those teachers. A contract for the educators of Philadelphia is a contract for the future of Philadelphia’s children." Organizers said the teachers are expected to participate from 20 different schools, including Franklin Learning Center, Central High School, Mifflin Elementary School, Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, Masterman, and the U School, where the WE caucus has strong contingents. "Educators are standing with parents, community members, immigrant rights groups, racial justice organizations, education advocates and allies from across the city to send a message" to the SRC and Superintendent Hite, said teacher Jessica Way of Franklin Learning Center. In the afternoon, the School Reform Commission plans to vote on renewals, nonrenewals and amendments involving 11 different charter schools. Although the charter office has completed renewal agreements for 26 schools, more than a dozen charters have declined to sign them in time for the vote, citing a variety of issues in complaining of regulatory overreach. In a conflict that has been playing out for close to 20 years, the charters and their proponents feel they are on the right side of the "justice" issue because they are providing more educational opportunities to thousands of Philadelphia students. But as charter enrollment has grown, resources have been drained from traditional schools, resulting in cutbacks in school personnel including nurses and counselors, increases in class size, and chronic shortages of materials. Due to a state funding system, the two sectors have been forced to compete for scarce resources.

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