The Pennsylvania Constitution says the state must "provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."
And yet, for the third year in a row, we look to the Corbett administration to help us fill a sizable hole in the School District of Philadelphia budget. The district's "ask" is $120 million from Harrisburg and $60 million from the city to prevent the elimination of art, music, sports, school nurses, guidance counselors, assistant principals, all after-school activities, and more. In return we get silence and shrugged shoulders.
I am troubled that some consider the School District a "lost cause." We must dispel that myth, and others:
The graduation rate is hopelessly low - FALSE. In 2002, 44 percent graduated on time. In 2012, 64 percent graduated on time.
Teacher salaries are too high - FALSE. Starting salaries for teachers in Philadelphia public schools are about $30,000 per year, compared with an average $34,000 for new suburban teachers.
Central-office spending is out of control - FALSE. Central-office positions have been cut from 762 filled positions in the 2011 budget to 433 in 2013.
Philadelphia is Pennsylvania's lone "problem child" - FALSE. School districts in Chester-Upland, York, and Harrisburg have been declared "financially distressed."
Philadelphia is not willing to help itself - FALSE. We have made tough choices and increased taxes in Philadelphia to fill holes in our budget for three years in a row.
Philadelphia is a money pit that gives nothing in return - FALSE. Philadelphia represents 12 percent of the state population and accounts for 35 percent of statewide gross domestic product. We are the state's economic engine. Our population is growing. Tourism is growing. GDP is growing. Our students deserve a growing commitment from state government.
I challenge members of the Corbett administration to come to Philadelphia and spend a day in a classroom without books, supplies, proper staffing, assistant principals, counselors, or librarians.
I invite you, Gov. Corbett, to shadow a student who has no art or music class to look forward to; no after-school sport to attend. I challenge you to explain to a student that librarians and guidance counselors are luxury items.
You cannot fully understand another's pain unless you walk a mile in her shoes. We hope the governor will do just that. Come see firsthand and decide for yourself whether you think the commonwealth is fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to provide "maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education." We hope to see you soon.