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Worlds Socialist Website Report on PA Schools Pulls No Punches

This post draws from a June 14 post on the World Socialist Website that described the budget crisis in Erie, PA. Titled “Pennsylvania School District Prepares to End Education Past Eighth Grade”, the post by Jason Melanovski summarizes the dilemma Erie faces in balancing its budget:

The district is currently facing a deficit of more than $10.3 million. Over $6 million in cuts have already been decided upon, leaving $4.3 million more to be cut. As a result, Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams has proposed to close all four of the city’s public high schools. Erie residents wishing to obtain an education past eighth grade would be forced to attend a charter school or travel to schools in other districts outside the city. The school district would only provide “limited transportation” to students who chose to attend a public school outside the district.

This action is not only in conformance with state law, it has already been taken by two other PA districts outside of Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne. And just in case a reader thinks that Erie might be able to find other places to cut, Mr. Melanovski recounts the other cuts needed given the shortfall in state funds and the erosion of the local tax base:

Among the cuts already approved are the elimination of all art and music classes, sports and extracurricular activities, and full-day kindergarten. School libraries at all grade levels would also be closed.

Unlike many other anti-“reform” columnists, Mr. Melanovski does not hold back the it comes to criticizing the source of this budget cutting:

The potential closing of all of Erie’s public high schools is a result of the ongoing nationwide attack on public education, carried out by both capitalist political parties. The Obama administration has deepened this onslaught under its “Race to the Top” educational program. “Education reform,” as promoted by both politicians and corporate-funded foundations, blames teachers for the shortcomings in public education and seeks to turn education into a new source of profit for investors, charter school administrators and other private companies and consultants looking to enrich themselves with public funds. Several major cities in the United States, such as New Orleans, no longer have any public schools at all.

In one paragraph Mr. Melanovski captures both the purpose and the result of NCLB and RTTT which is embodied in the budget problems in Erie. And in his concluding paragraph, he has a scathing indictment of the Democrat party, the supposed champion of the working class:

The destitution of public education in Erie has received cynical responses from politicians in both major political parties, such as Democratic State Senator Sean Wiley, who stated, “There is no greater responsibility of the Pennsylvania General Assembly than to invest in the future of this Commonwealth and that future begins and ends in public education.”

This responsibility is apparently not shared by the State Senator’s own political party, as Pennsylvania, historically one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country, has seen state funding of K-12 education drop from 50 percent in 1972 to less than 35 percent today.

I’ve written several posts about PA, the State where I grew up and held my earliest jobs in public education. When I returned for my reunion in West Chester a few months ago I was astonished at the appearance of the newly renovated high school and the athletic fields that surrounded it. West Chester, an affluent bedroom community of Wilmington DE and metropolitan Philadelphia, has a strong tax base and lots of parents who are willing to pay high property taxes to ensure their children have an opportunity to advance. They won’t be cutting art and music classes, sports and extracurricular activities, and full-day kindergarten any time soon, nor will they be closing their school libraries… and the problems of Erie, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne are the furthest thing from their minds. And I daresay some residents of my hometown probably say that THEY are willing to invest in the future for THEIR children and Erie taxpayers should be willing to do the same. But Melanovski offers the sad reality:

Like many American cities, Erie has suffered greatly from the corporate policy of deindustrialization and suffers from high levels of poverty. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, over 80 percent of the approximately 12,000 students who attend Erie schools come from low-income families, making it one of the poorest districts in the state.

The district has also been hit by the decline of state funding to public schools. Under the state’s formula, public schools are guaranteed the same level of funding as in previous years, even if they lose students. Erie’s public school student population has remained relatively stable, while the percentage of students living in low-income houses has greatly increased, thus leaving it unable to rely on local property taxes to increase funding that it is not receiving from the state.

Erie parents, like many parents in American cities, would like to spend more on schooling… but they can’t. They need a helping hand. Here’s hoping they get it.

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