The Crisis that Plagues the Philadelphia School System
Written by Kaitlyn Viola
February 7, 2020
A vast number of Philadelphia’s youth are locked into low-performing schools as a result of the neighborhood in which they live. Not only are neighborhoods in north and southwest Philadelphia home to some of the highest crime rates in the nation, but they contain some of the most dangerous, under-funded, and low-performing schools. According to the State Department of Education’s annual School Performance Profile, more than 15,000 children are stranded in failing Philadelphia schools, of which 70 percent live in poverty. Not only does this phenomenon epitomize a substantial lack of access for low-income children, but it perpetuates the cycle of poverty in Philadelphia as a whole, as children are deprived of the chance to obtain a high-quality education.
A lack of access to proper education is no new concept for low-income children, but the U.S. has taken steps in the past to counter such disparities. For example, the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 intended to level the playing field for disadvantaged children by allowing students in substandard educational regions to apply elsewhere, and even provided transportation to other schools. Unfortunately, these efforts have dissolved into a rather-cursory revival of charter schools—a phenomenon many district officials, such as Philadelphia’s chief of Student Support Services, Karyn Lynch, applaud as making an alternative choice available to Philadelphia’s residents. Conversely, the emergence of charter schools in Philadelphia serves as a mere band-aid to the issues and disparities that plague Philadelphia’s public schools, as policymakers treat them as a replacement for low-performing district schools. In the process of this expansion, legislature not only neglects to reform and rebuild struggling public schools but fails to accommodate new charter schools with sufficient funding without
negatively impacting already-struggling public schools through massive layoffs, school closings, and budget cuts. As noted by the historian for the Penn Institute for Urban Research, Tom Sugrue, in “Who’s (Still) Killing Philly Public Schools,” Philadelphia largely depends on state and federal funding, both of which are substantially influenced by vehemently partisan politics and anti-urban sentiment. In turn, this gives rise to the elimination of thousands of staff and teacher positions every year as a result of budget cuts facilitated by often-stingy funding mechanisms of state government.
So, what is the result of the aforementioned changes? Not only do academic achievement gaps persist, but the district’s student population begins a mass decline from 1995 to 2017 as nearly 30,000 families send their children to charter schools. Meanwhile, children in low-income areas continue to lack access to equitable educational opportunities, thus resulting in far lower chances of obtaining a quality education than their wealthier, often-white counterparts who flee to high-performing charters. In the meantime, African-American children make up 70 percent of the student population forced to endure failing Philadelphia schools. State action must be taken in order to amend the disparities that plague the school system of Philadelphia, as they not only disempower Philadelphia’s youth by depriving them of their right to education, but also maintain an educational gap which leaves the underprivileged far behind the rest of the student population. If the state law provides for choice-schooling through the emergence of charter schools, it should also provide the fiscal resources required, so as to ensure that all children are given access to a fair quality of education, regardless of where they reside.