Millionaire vultures in Philly to pick over carcass of public education


Remember how some of us were saying that as soon as the "shock doctrine" of manufactured budget crises put the fork in any hope of reviving Philadelphia's public schools in any way, that the vulture capitalists would be diving in to pick over the carcass?

Don't bother, they're here. In fact, they're everywhere, they're everywhere! When we weren't looking, someone apparently decreed that Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, shall be hereby known as Crush A Teacher Day in the city of Philadelphia.

It only takes $50,000 to participate!

On Monday, wealthy donors interested in the future of public education will gather for a two-day conference at the Union League: "All of the Above: How Donors can Expand a City's Great Schools."

Attendance is restricted to those who make $50,000 in charitable donations per year. One might hope, given the apocalyptic state of Philly's resource-starved public schools, that they are here to plot a campaign to reverse deep state budget cuts — or, at the very least, to cut a check to rehire some laid-off school counselors.

Instead, they will meet with self-described school-reform activists who want to move yet more students out of the same "government schools" they have defunded and into privately-managed charters — and even straight-up private schools. The entirely broke School District of Philadelphia estimates that each student who attends a charter costs it an additional $7,000. That existential fiscal challenge posed by charter expansion will not, it seems, be on the agenda. Nothing about the sector's rampant corruption and lack of state or local oversight either.

The cast of characters includes some of the usual suspects: Jeremy Nowak, who caught a fever during his brief tenure as head of the William Penn Foundation, and the only way he can scratch it is with more cowbell corporate education reform, and something that calls itself Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), that is basically funded these days by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

But wait! There's more!

Seniority for public school teachers is in the crosshairs in Philadelphia and soon will be a target across Pennsylvania.

Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations for a new contract for Philadelphia teachers, a coalition of education and parents' groups says it will call on the School Reform Commission Monday to immediately pull seniority off the bargaining table and give Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. a free hand in assigning staff.


On Tuesday, a bill is to be introduced in Harrisburg that would strip language from the state school code that requires layoffs and recalls to be determined by seniority.

Jonathan Cetel, executive director of the state group PennCan, which seeks to speed the pace of education improvement, said Sunday both efforts were aimed at bringing reform to "an outdated model," in which the most recent hires are laid off first and brought back last.

I guess we should be flattered that so many rich folks so suddenly care so much about the education of poor and working-class kids here in Philadelphia, which has the highest rates of deep poverty in the nation. But unfortunately, too many of these folks are involved in the corporate education reform movement are in it a) because they're Cato Institute libertarian crack pots who think that the "free market" that made them billionaires can save urban school kids despite research that shows no such thing b) they're hucksters who want to get richer through corrupt charter schools or companies that profit on standardized testing or c) they want to crush unions, because that's what they do, never mind the studies showing the correlation between a strong labor movement and a more prosperous middle class.

They want to help the schools here? Great! Hop in your Mercedes, get to Harrisburg, lobby for real and equitable funding, and connect with these folks.