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Philadelphia’s de facto User Fees Fund “Frills”… Like School Libraries

January 28, 2019

Diane Ravitch wrote a deservedly scathing post about the Philadelphia school district’s school library program (sic), which consists of seven libraries in the entire system! She wrote:

The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a miracle” when the library reopened at an elementary school. But it was no miracle. It was the schools’ parents, who raised $90,000.

Then the Superintendent, Mayor, Congressman, et al had the nerve to show up at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. No shame! They gave not one red cent, not one bit of support.

As I noted in a comment that I left, the reason “…the Superintendent, Mayor, Congressman, et al” showed up was to make it abundantly clear to other schools that libraries were now a “frill” that parents would need to pay for with a user fee.

I have a long personal history with user fees in public schools. When I was Principal at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel Main in the late 1970s, we were facing budget cuts because of the spike in fuel costs. Faced with the need to cut a teacher, I decided to cut Drivers Education. The rationale for the cut was two-fold: the private sector was already offering courses during the summer and before and after school, courses that enabled students to enroll in elective courses at the high school that they might otherwise have missed; and, parents could use the reduction in their insurance rates to cover the cost they would have to pay for a Drivers Ed course.

Later I used the same rationale to eliminate instrumental music teachers: parents were “buying” lessons independent of the school and the sectional practices and group lessons in schools were pulling students out of academics, which was the primary purpose of school.

Finally, and most reluctantly, I accepted the reality that students who participated in sports should pay a fee. Why? Sadly because fees were being charged for community sports programs… the programs that had taken the place of sandlot games I played when I was growing up.

But as I also noted in my comment, when “frills” are paid for by de facto user fees instead of broad-based taxes, we are increasingly moving toward a world where public services are underfunded and we begin to expect communities to underwrite basics… a world where gated communities have superior police and fire protection and everyone else is covered by low paid and overworked police forces and volunteer firemen. and all of this is touted as “the sharing economy”. From where I sit, it’s called “the sharing economy” because those who can afford “frills” can share them with each other….

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