A by-product of the Philadelphia School District's draconian budget cuts?

Educators have to get creative.

So when the offer of a free online platform for high schools looking to beef up students' leadership, entrepreneurial, and financial literacy skills came along, Franklin Learning Center principal Charles Staniskis jumped.

Officials at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School recently named the Philadelphia School District the first member of its Knowledge@Wharton Global Leaders Network.

Franklin Learning Center will begin accessing the network's lesson plans, articles written specifically for high school students, business games, and online discussion forums that give students access to professors, industry experts, and peers.

There will be competitions, too - the first will challenge students to create and implement a social-media strategy for Knowledge@Wharton High School.

Several schools have already signed on to the network, which is open to all district schools.

"The budget cuts are so terrible that any type of learning center that comes by with no cost we are very very happy to use," Staniskis said. "It's a major factor."

Free is good, of course, but the content is the most crucial part of the equation.

"Right now, there are a lot of hucksters out there," Staniskis said. "They'll put any old stuff out there.

"But I know Penn's rigor," he said. "We're looking forward to trying out the materials and getting them integrated into different subject areas. I like that students get to talk to professors, talk to people in industry, get involved in competitions, apply knowledge. We're in a state now that just learning from a textbook is not going to cut it."

Seniors at the Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology have already begun using the network, poring over an article on whether college is really worth its high price tag. Principal Eileen Coutts said she would also incorporate the network into workshops and English classes.

"It's a fantastic teaching tool," Coutts said.

Germantown High business teacher Sharon Ann Daniels uses the lesson plans in her freshman seminar class and the personal finance class she teaches to older students.

"I'm connecting on a whole new level on how to bring rigor and relevance to my students," Daniels said.

She's a fan of how the program will connect her students to their peers across the country.

"Granted, our PSSA scores are not the best," Daniels said, "but I don't want my students to be limited by where they are. I want them to know they're competing worldwide, not just with Germantown or Philadelphia, but the rest of the world. This exposure can take them to great places."

Districts across the country and schools around the world will eventually be invited to join the network, Wharton officials said.