Leaders who signed the document said the district's $300 million deficit was "largely created" by Corbett and the legislature's decision to slash $1 billion in statewide aid for schools in 2011 and abandon a statewide formula that had been designed to provide resources to the districts and schools with the neediest students.
"Access to a quality public education is a fundamental civil and human right," said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The group called on Corbett to immediately release a $45 million state grant without conditions so the district can "begin to restore essential teachers, staff, programs, and services."
The letter also urged the governor to assess the district's needs, work with the legislature to obtain a supplemental appropriation for the district in the current academic year, and revive and update the statewide school-funding formula used before 2011.
Signers also asked Corbett to meet with them "at your earliest convenience to discuss a solution to this crisis."
Timothy Eller, spokesman for the state Education Department, disputed the coalition's assertions.
"First and foremost, Gov. Corbett's main priority is that every student in Philadelphia and across the state is provided with a high-quality education," Eller wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
He said Corbett had not reduced state funding to Pennsylvania's public schools.
"In fact, the governor's budgets have done the exact opposite. Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Corbett has increased state support of public schools by $1.17 billion - increasing from $8.5 billion in 2010-11 to $9.75 billion in the current fiscal year. In addition, since taking office, Gov. Corbett has increased state support to the School District of Philadelphia by $164 million - a 14 percent increase."
Critics have charged that most of the increase went to mandated payments to the teachers' pension fund and not into classrooms.
Eller also noted that the law the legislature passed last summer to provide the $45 million state grant to Philadelphia's schools "requires the district to implement fiscal, education, and operational reforms before the $45 million in state funding is released."
He said the long-term solution for the district's financial problems is obtaining a contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers "that achieves the savings and reforms identified by the School Reform Commission, as well as City Council extending and redirecting the 1 percent sales tax to the district."
Henderson said his Washington-based umbrella organization and nine member groups were especially concerned about what was happening in Philadelphia because "mostly students of color in the wealthiest nation on Earth" were being denied teachers, librarians, nurses, books, and sometimes even desks in their schools. He said the lack of resources sends a signal of indifference to students and their families.
"Our letter was intended," he said, "to send a message to Gov. Corbett and the students . . . that what is happening in Pennsylvania is a matter of national concern, and we are watching it."
Henderson said that the coalition was also trying to highlight and change what is happening in public schools in Pennsylvania to deter other governors who are grappling with tight budgets from adopting the same approach.
"Pennsylvania," he warned, "may soon become a national model for dysfunctional education."
Henderson said the coalition was making the letter public because Corbett had not yet responded.
"We want to send a signal to the governor that there will be more to follow," he added.
The Leadership Conference was founded 50 years ago by A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
Those who signed the letter to Corbett include: Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP; Phone Do, interim director executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Center; Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens; and Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.
The 134,000 students in Philadelphia's 212 district schools are dealing with larger class sizes, fewer teachers, counselors, administrators, and aides. They also are grappling with severe shortages of resources, including books and paper.
The district, which has a $220 million deficit, is seeking $103 million in savings from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The district also wants concessions that meet the state's conditions for reform to obtain a $45 million grant.
Libraries at Masterman and Central High will reopen after a $205,000 gift from an anonymous donor. B1.
Goode wants the SRC to take a stand on tax breaks for new homes. B5.
A West Philadelphia sixth grader died, reportedly from severe asthma complications, after she was sent home from school Sept. 25. B8.