This script can be read as either horror or comedy. Frighteningly (or hilariously), though, this is reality.
The chief of the Philadelphia School District's charter school office recently conceded that the charter school expansions approved so far this year could cost $139 million over five years — $100 million more than he originally estimated. So, on top of a looming $282 million deficit, the School District plans to spend tens of millions of dollars more while making math mistakes worth $100 million? Clearly, the charter school expansion agenda has trumped fiscal sanity.
The School District's deficit is a major obstacle to reforming a system that was already struggling to serve our children. It's time to stop subjecting our kids to this high-cost, low-return reform model. School Reform Commission members Joseph Dworetzky and Lorene Cary deserve kudos for voting against adding another $139 million to the deficit, and for urging the district to pursue a research-backed, school-based approach to education reform.
We can save money and get better results by working with and supporting our own educators and administrators. After all, they are trained to do what we're trying to accomplish: give our children the education they need. If the SRC insists on spending tens of millions of dollars more, our students and teachers could certainly benefit more from additional classroom materials and technology, safer school buildings, after-school programs, social services — and maybe even summer school!
But addressing the social and economic issues that directly affect student performance is apparently too difficult or time-consuming for district officials. Spending money on failed strategies, by contrast, apparently gives the commission the kind of instant gratification others get from watching The Avengers in 3-D.
Tying our children's futures and our finances to education reform fantasies is a dangerous endeavor with very real consequences. This fall, I hope we'll be ready to leave multimillion-dollar charter school expansion schemes behind and have more reality-based discussions about what students really need from our schools.
Jerry Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.