IN PHILADELPHIA, 2,700 blue-collar workers recently agreed to contribute more than $100 million from their own pockets to save the city's schools and help close the school district's budget shortfall. For these men and women who work every day to keep our schools clean and safe, this is a very real sacrifice. Most earn less than $40,000, even after years on the job.
Their sacrifice has brought an end to one battle for now. But the larger war against our public schools and the working people of our state goes on.
The immediate threat is to the 40 or more Philadelphia public schools that are on the chopping block for possible closure, putting at risk the academic future of the children who attend these schools and the jobs of the people who keep the schools running.
Philadelphia is the country's fifth-largest city and has the eighth-largest school district. But it is starved for cash largely because of the policies of Gov. Corbett and the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Our city and schools are facing this financial crisis because of the failure of the governor and Legislature to close tax loopholes for billion-dollar corporations.
As a result, our state faces a budget crunch that has provided a perfect pretext for a right-wing endgame against teachers' unions and for school privatization around the state.
While Corbett shortchanges public schools with one hand, he continues with the other hand to push legislation that would reduce oversight of charter schools and cut back on local control over them. It's a neat trick, and school-privatization advocates around the country are in fact watching what happens in Pennsylvania to refine their playbook for other states.
Charter schools drain precious resources from our already cash-strapped public schools, which increases the cost of educating those who remain at traditional district-run schools. Moreover, studies show that nearly half of Pennsylvania charter-school students perform significantly worse than students at district-run public schools.
But school privatization is big business, and some of the big businesses behind it in our state are also contributors to Corbett. Not-for-profit charter schools are often controlled by for-profit companies, which charge large management fees that come out of the public's pocket.
The lack of accountability and transparency in charter schools has also enabled corruption, which has been revealed in a series of scandals. The paradox couldn't be more stark: Charter-school executives are charged with stealing millions of dollars while blue-collar workers are forced to pay out of their own pockets to solve budget shortfalls exacerbated by the increase in charter schools.
Corbett is forcing on our state a national Republican agenda to dismantle not just public education but other public programs that our families rely on. While ignoring overwhelming public support for fairer corporate taxes, the governor has instead imposed deep and shortsighted budget cuts that hurt working and middle-class people and damage the chances for economic recovery in Pennsylvania.
Middle-class families are the backbone of our state. It's time our leaders in Harrisburg showed the spine to defend them.