The march kicked off at Comcast Center on 17th and JFK, where parents and clergy members called on the cable giant and its Executive Vice President, David Cohen, to pay their fair share and stay out school funding negotiations. “If Comcast really wants to help, they can start by paying the millions of dollars they owe from their years of tax dodging,” said Hanif Palmer, parent and Fight for Philly member. He continued, “I have a child in the public school system and I am constantly worried about her academic future. BOK High School – my alma mater – is one of 24 public schools that are now closed. The schools that will open in 18 days will operate on limited resources that will stretch our teachers and students to the breaking point.”
The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd surrounding Comcast Center also heard from PA State Senator Daylin Leach, who told the crowd “I am a product of the Philadelphia Public Schools. Teachers saved my life.”
The governor and corporate reformers like Comcast’s David Cohen want the school district to save money by forcing teachers and staff to make salary and benefit concessions. But Philadelphia teachers are already paid 19 percent less than teachers in Bucks and Montgomery counties. And large corporations like Comcast continue to benefit from the Delaware loophole, low state business taxes, and the Actual Value Initiative. “Shared sacrifice” should mean that those most able should pay before teachers and staff give even more. The state government has found only $2 million in new funding for Philadelphia schools this year. The city has pledged $28 million from delinquent tax collection and is now committing $50 million more, although the mayor and Council can’t agree on the source for those funds.
After the rousing speeches in front of the Comcast Center, education advocates marched through the pouring rain, chanting and carrying signs in support of teachers and more funding. Once the marchers made it to the school building, they were greeted by the sweet sounds of Bob Marley and clear and sunny skies. A series of school district employees, students, and union leaders gave speeches outside where the School Reform Commission was meeting.
Christa Rivers, a student at Girls High School and member of Youth United for Change told the crowd, “Now we end here at the school district to protect our teachers because they are not being supported by the district. Our teachers are being used as scapegoats for the state’s poor decisions around budget cuts. We students also deserve better. As a student in a Philadelphia public school I feel like we are being pushed under a rug and left to our own devices.”
Teddy Daniels, a long time janitor with the school district whose two young sons attend public schools, said, ““What’s happening to our schools is no accident, far from it. This is a manufactured crisis brought on us by Governor Corbett. Governor Corbett has demonstrated time and time again that he doesn’t care if Philly public schools fail.”
The President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers , Jerry Jordan, closed the rally, saying “We are out here not for ourselves, but for Philly’s children. We will not stop fighting for them until we get full, fair funding.”
The start of the school year is days away, and our schools are still underfunded. Our mayor and city leaders have made little effort to remedy the situation. We need to keep the pressure on our elected leaders to make sure our children do not become casualties of a failed school system.