Peta Lindsay: Defend public education in Philadelphia!

Peta Lindsay, 2012 presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, was a student in the Philadelphia public schools.

Today the Philadelphia School District announced a “restructuring” plan that will devastate, if not destroy, the institution of public education in Philadelphia. This wholesale attack on Philadelphia public schools is the latest battle in the war on the working people taking place in cities and towns all over the U.S. We must fight to defend public education in Philadelphia because all students deserve the right to a quality, free education.

The plan will shut down a record number of schools (eight schools this year, 40 schools next year and 35 more in years to come,) dismantle the district and allow private entities to bid on running groups of schools. District employees like the bus aides, cleaners and maintenance workers, who previously had union protection have been issued layoff notices. The district says they may keep their jobs but only if they compete with the super-low wages being offered by the private corporations who are looking forward to receiving lucrative contracts for those services.

Thousands of kids will be transferred to charter schools, which receive public funding but function as private entities. Charter schools have a record of discrimination in their admissions, union busting for their employees and an alarming lack of oversight overall.  The other schools will be managed by “Achievement Networks” meaning public or private entities will compete to run those ostensibly public schools. Additionally benefits and salaries for school employees across the board will be “restructured.” We know this means that the wages and benefits for thousands of workers in the Philadelphia school system will be slashed.

The Philadelphia school district is facing a $218 million deficit. Sadly, this is very common these days. School districts around the country are facing cutbacks, layoffs and school closures as a result of the economic crisis and less money from state and federal sources. This is the richest country in the world. How is it that we cannot afford to fund our schools?

Why can’t we afford to fully fund education?

The war in Afghanistan costs $330 million per day. Just one day of the war in Afghanistan could fix the deficit in Philadelphia schools and then some. If this were a true democracy, if the people were allowed to vote on the most basic questions that affect our lives, do you think that the working people of this country would rather their tax dollars go to military contracts and high-tech slaughter or to textbooks, smaller class sizes and safe, quality schools for their kids? The answer is obvious. But that is why capitalism limits control of these questions to the wealthy, the elected representatives of the 1 percent. 

School funding in Philadelphia has also taken a hit because of the decline in property taxes. When I was a young organizer in the Philadelphia Student Union we held an action where we took busloads of students to the state capitol in Harrisburg to speak to state legislators and demand more school funding.

I vividly remember the day that a representative met with us and told us that our schools received less funding than the overwhelmingly white surrounding suburban schools because our parents paid less in property taxes. That representative all but told us that it was our fault our schools were inadequate, because we were born poor. That we deserved less quality education and less educational opportunities because we did not have the good sense to be born in a wealthier area to wealthier people, as I’m sure was the case with his children. In Harrisburg the officials told us that this was not something children should be concerned with, they told us to let the adults handle it. But it was abundantly clear then as it is today, that the adults in charge do not have our best interests at heart.

I learned three important things that day:

1. The policy of linking school funding to property taxes is a policy that ensures that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. We are all told from the time we are small children that education is the key to success. So why, in this great democracy, land of equality and opportunity, is quality education reserved only for those whose parents can pay more for it?

2. In this system the elected officials—who are usually wealthy themselves and overwhelmingly white, embrace the existence of structural inequality. They craft the policy that controls our lives, denying funding to our schools and cutting off opportunities for our children, knowing that their children do not live in poor districts, nor will they have to rely on those schools themselves.

3. This is what class warfare looks like. The fight to save public schools is a fight for the future of working class children in a system that only cares about the interests of a wealthy few.

Global trend of austerity and privatization

What is being done to Philadelphia schools is part of a dangerous trend. All over the world capitalist governments are imposing deep austerity measures, slashing social services and pensions in order to force working people to pay for a crisis created by the capitalist system itself. But the United States ruling class seems to be going above and beyond by enacting policies that support the idea that the solution to the economic crisis lies in getting rid of public education entirely. Through charter schools, No Child Left Behind and mass privatization, schools are being shut down and sold off so that the capitalists can make more money. In the end, our children and our future will suffer.

The Lindsay/Osorio campaign believes that we must fight to defend public education in Philadelphia—and in every city and town across the U.S! Education is a fundamental right. Working people in this country generate a tremendous amount of wealth; we must demand that that wealth is used to provide a free, quality education to all of our children.

We must fight back against attacks on teachers, inequality in school funding, attacks on the union and school closures in areas that have the highest need. Families, students and teachers must organize together to fight for the free, quality public education that we all deserve. 

The struggle for public schools under capitalism is a struggle for reform and it is a crucial one. It is a struggle that highlights the inherent inequality in the capitalist system, where working class families have to fight to get our children any hint of opportunity, while those opportunities are all but guaranteed to the children of the rich. While we fight for this reform, let’s also fight for a new system, a system that prioritizes the needs of the majority over the interests of the wealthy few, one in which real equality, education and opportunity are available to all. Let’s fight for socialism!

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