Students and elected officials gathered in the sweltering heat Thursday to demand that the School District of Philadelphia restore funding to 13 accelerated schools that educate overage, undercredited youths.
Student Princess Rahman, 19, dropped out of Martin Luther King High. At King, she said, she was bored and disengaged; she fought and attended school only sporadically. Now, she attends North Philadelphia Community High School, one of the accelerated programs.
Because of a $629 million budget gap, the district has cut funding to all 13 schools for next year. Officials say they will take the programs in-house, serving more students for less money.
But Rahman isn't buying it. The district failed her once, she said. Her new school is different, better - she's a high achiever now, focused, on her way to attending college.
"There have been many lives lost on the street," Rahman said at a morning rally outside City Hall. "You close down our schools and you're supplying the guns. You take away funding and you supply the ammunition."
The rally, organized by the student group Youth United for Change, drew several legislators who vowed to fight for the cause.
Councilman Bill Green, a vocal district critic, said City Council had made restoring alternative-school funding a priority. The district has asked for $75 million to $110 million in additional city money to help close the budget gap.
But Green said the district had placed restoring alternative-school funding too low on the list of things it would restore - 13th.
If the city comes up with more money, "alternative schools are going to be part of those funds, or they're not getting them."
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez has also been a strong supporter of the accelerated programs.
"Are we ready to rumble? We ain't taking this," she said at the rally.
She told the assembled students, "We failed you the first time. We're not going to fail you a second time. I will do whatever it takes."
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, chair of the Education Committee and a strong supporter of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and the district, also spoke.
"Believe me, we will raise this issue," she said of accelerated schools.
She said students shouldn't have to be fighting for programs that work.
"Those of us who have this responsibility should be fighting for you," Blackwell said.
State Rep. Tony Payton (D., Phila.) said the district central office was "making a wrong decision by not investing the $25 million in accelerated schools. We need to invest in evidence-based programs that work. Accelerated schools work."
State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.) echoed the call. He has been even more critical. Cruz has introduced legislation that would create a referendum allowing Philadelphia voters to weigh in on whether the School Reform Commission should continue or be abolished in favor of a locally elected school board.
Cruz made his position on the superintendent clear.
"We have a problem in Philadelphia, and her name is Arlene Ackerman," he said.