Nearly 10 percent of the Philadelphia Public Schools system has been shut down; 81 percent of the students affected are Black.
The Pennsylvania School Reform Commission voted June 1 to close 23 Philadelphia public schools, saying a budget deficit made the move necessary. But while officials blamed the decision on a $304 million debt, others are questioning the state’s decision to simultaneously spend hundreds of millions on corporate tax breaks and a new prison.
Students at the remaining Philadelphia public schools will return in the fall to find a lack of books, papers, arts and athletic clubs, and staff. Nearly 3,000 school staff and administrators have lost their jobs throughout the district — including assistant principals, librarians and counselors.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that although teachers will have larger class sizes, the schools will not be able to provide aides to help teachers manage the children. The school also will not have any support staff to help monitor students in the lunchroom or the playground.
According to Russia Today, one of the state’s five commissioners voted against the closure, saying Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration had not tried its hardest to find the funds to keep the schools open.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the cuts are catastrophic and has requested that the state find money to give to the schools. Local media has speculated that since the legislature is controlled by the Republican Party, that likely will not happen.
Some pointed to legislation that the GOP-controlled state House passed that gave a tax break to corporations, costing Pennsylvania residents between $600 million and $800 million annually.
While nearly 10 percent of the Philadelphia public school system has been shut down, affecting a largely Black student demographic — 81 percent of the students affected are Black — the city has begun work on a prison project that is expected to cost the city $400 million.
Called it the second-most expensive state project ever, the city is building a $400 million prison to supplement two existing jails: the Western Penitentiary and the Fayette County Jail. The new prison is expected to open in 2015 and have the ability to house about 5,000 inmates. Other features of the prison include a classroom, a building for female inmates, a building for the mentally ill, and a building for the death-row population.
The prison is so large that it’s actually two prisons in one and is named to represent the grand scale — State Correctional Institutions Phoenix I and II.
Some individuals, including journalist Rania Khalek, are concerned that the closure of the schools and the expansion of prisons are occurring in an area that largely affects poor communities — 93 percent of the students affected by the school closure in Philadelphia are from low-income families.
Khalek argues that news of fewer public schools is likely positive news for Wall Street, since fewer public schools means that there is an increased demand for charter schools. Another exciting facet to this story for Wall Street tycoons, Khalek writes, is that the prison population is predominantly made up of minorities.
“More than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day,” she wrote. “These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the ‘war on drugs,’ in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.”