Parents United

How we run our schools: the budget fight within the budget fight

Yesterday School District officials presented their budget request to City Council - an additional $70-100 million above the regular allocation - to fill an over $600m projected shortfall. The hook is that the District has threatened to otherwise end a slate of programs that are more integral than accessory: full day kindergarten, schools that serve the most vulnerable kids, tokens that get students to and from school. Today Council will hear public comment, and has a long list of people already signed up to testify.

So despite reports that the mayor has already committed to find the money, there is no straight line to how this would get done. There seems to be deep public and political support for fully funding public education in the city, but no consensus yet as to the least painful way to raise the money.

And there are also sharp questions about the District's own spending priorities, powerfully outlined by Parents United (and posted by Helen, below). These questions only get fueled by reporting like today's Inquirer tally of the cost of the District's internal investigation into whistleblowing over its contracting practices. The District should respond, and hopefully this budget process can become a tool to compel a real two-way conversation.

While working for Councilwoman Sanchez, I had the opportunity to visit Fairhill Community School, one of the drop-out prevention programs that is threatened. Most often when kids are corralled onto a panel to talk to a bunch of politicians, no one says anything particularly interesting. But there, every student who spoke told an arresting story - of how they came to the school, and how the respect and engagement they felt there was unlike anything they had experienced before. Each kid was 1000% clear that they would have never made it through their regular high school, or had already dropped out, because the lack of safety and size at places like Fels made it impossible for them to get the support they needed to deal with school on top of pretty harrowing life circumstances. And many, many of these students were girls raising children. If the District did go through with ending alternative schools like Fairhill, aimed at drop-out prevention and returning kids to school, there is no substitute. These kids will not graduate. We can't seriously allow them to be treated as a bargaining chip in the budget, and at the very least any additional funds should be securely targeted for the threatened programs.

But there will surely be additional cuts (language support is proposed to be halved), given the shortfall. We have to look beyond the obvious crises and consider the full budget picture, and insist on a real role for the mayor, Council, and public in deciding priorities and how and where cuts are made.

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