THE PHILADELPHIA School District, a $3 billion enterprise whose job is to educate mostly poor and black children, is a system steeped in racism.
It doesn't matter whether those at the head of the system are black. The game is fixed, the outcome is predetermined, and the children are commodities whose value is measured not in test scores or grades, but in dollars and cents.
To put it bluntly, Philadelphia's education system is an auction block where children of color are sold to the highest bidder. It is a system that Judge Doris Smith Ribner once said was "failing or refusing to provide . . . a quality education to children attending racially isolated minority schools."
I wish I could say Smith-Ribner's statement - made in a 1992 ruling on Philadelphia's segregated schools - was no longer accurate. But I'm convinced that the system is rigged.
Want proof? Look no further than the School Reform Commission, the unelected body that allocates the billions flowing through the district each year. Created in 2001 when the city, under former Mayor John Street, went to the state for money, the SRC was part of a state takeover. From the beginning, the politically run SRC - with two members appointed by the mayor and three by the governor - had a mandate to fund privately run school organizations with public money.
Under the deal brokered by Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker, the mainly black and Latino parents whose children attended Philadelphia's public schools would have absolutely no say over the SRC's decisions. For that matter, no one else would, either.
In the SRC, the district, with its long history of segregated schools, found a new way to underserve black children. By 2009, when the SRC finally voted to end 40 years of desegregation litigation, the white children were mostly gone. The SRC was supposed to fix what was left.
The whole thing was couched in the language of creating alternatives to low-performing schools. Where low performance didn't already exist, the state created low performance by starving schools of funding.
Under former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, for example, $1 billion was cut from education, a move that disproportionately affected low-income school districts like Philadelphia.
Stripping the funding allowed the SRC to do what it had been created to do - hand over low-performing schools to charters. And the SRC did a magnificent job. As of December 2015, the Philadelphia School District had 83 charter schools, and that number keeps climbing.
The charter takeover reached its zenith last week, when SRC member Sylvia Simms, an unelected, unpaid and unaccountable member of the SRC, overruled School Superintendent William Hite, who earns $300,000 annually to run the schools. Simms decided that Hite was wrong to recommend that Wister Elementary could remain a regular public school rather than being turned over to Mastery Charter.
Two of her fellow SRC members backed her resolution to consider Mastery Charter as the company that should run the school.
But that shouldn't be up to Simms, because, despite her assertion that she was acting on behalf of parents, she is part of a system that is not accountable to parents.
But at the very least, the SRC should be accountable to the black and Latino children whose schools they oversee. It's those children who remain in underfunded schools. And those children, by virtue of their skin color and economic disadvantage, are statistically more likely to go to jail if they fail to graduate the schools the SRC has all but destroyed.
The SRC is part of a system that creates the very failing schools it claims it wants to fix, and then sells those schools to private organizations that gorge themselves on taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, children of color trapped in that system have to do more with less than their white, suburban counterparts. That's separate and unequal education, and that's unconstitutional.
How do we fix the racism underlying that reality? We can start by disbanding the SRC.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM). Reach him at email@example.com. His column will appear here weekly.