Stepping into Philadelphia's school-funding crisis, the Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a fiery address Saturday linking public education to the civil rights movement and promising a return to the city to "take the veil off."

The problem, he said in his keynote speech at the "Higher Education Awareness, Dropout Prevention, and Health Initiative" conference, is "a direct effort to eliminate public education." He then seized upon a theme often trumpeted by city education activists:

"You got money, [Gov.] Corbett, for jails, but no money for schools. And you ask what's wrong with the kids? I come to ask, 'What's wrong with you?' " he said. "Bible says that you reap what you sow. Well, if you invest in jails and cut the budget on schools, you're investing in incarceration rather than education."

The conference was organized by Education for a Better America, led by Sharpton's daughter Dominique and his own National Action Network. Held at the Community College of Philadelphia in partnership with the city, the conference also included talks by Mayor Nutter and School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

In his address, given more than an hour later than scheduled - because New York's mayoral candidates spoke too long at an earlier event, he said - Sharpton invoked the name of Martin Luther King Jr.

"I really think we need an education movement and we need to really show, in the name of Dr. King . . . that education is a civil right and we cannot fight to achieve the dream and full civil rights without fighting for educational equality."

He promised to return to the issue of education in Philadelphia. Sharpton, who hosts PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton on MSNBC, will move to Chicago later this month for a project on gun violence. Similarly, he said, he will "do a test model" with his show, focused on education here.