Nutter calls school funding an issue of inequality

Posted: January 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA With Gov. Corbett seated just feet away, Mayor Nutter used an appearance at a Martin Luther King's Birthday ceremony Monday to call for full funding of public schools, his speech a subtle jab at an administration blamed for budget cuts that have left public schools in crisis.

In remarks preceding a ceremonial ringing of the Liberty Bell at noon in honor of King and Nelson Mandela, Nutter made a stark departure from the broad reflections offered by Corbett and others on the legacies of the freedom fighters.

Nutter's pointed, if brief, sermon concerned an issue that landed Corbett in trouble Friday, when he canceled an appearance with students at Central High School, avoiding hundreds of disgruntled people gathered outside the Philadelphia magnet school to protest his school-funding policies.

"The fight for equality and justice must be one for fair and full funding for educating all of our young people across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and certainly here in Philadelphia," Nutter said. "And I believe that you cannot be free without an education. Not just an adequate deduction, but a superior education, to be a first-class citizen in this country."

Nutter then drew attention to the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the high court ruling against racial segregation of schools.

"Let the work and the words and the commitments made today last for the rest of this historic year - 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education historic decision," Nutter said. "Let us make sure that we are living up to what the Supreme Court said at that time, that education is, in fact, the most important function of state and local governments. Let us educate our children so that they'll be great Americans."

Corbett sat politely as Nutter spoke from a lectern the governor had used just minutes earlier to praise the "moral urgency" of King and Mandela.

Asked later if his remarks had been aimed at the visiting governor, Nutter would not say. "The main issue for us in Pennsylvania is fair and full funding," he said, adding that the state was enjoined to deliver that under its constitution.

Corbett did not disagree.

"I would love to see the state take on the issue of fair funding for all the school districts in Pennsylvania, which means that we absolutely, at some point in time here, need to have a study, a commission, that is done for all the funding of education in Pennsylvania," he said.

The Corbett administration has presided over the reduction in $1 billion in education funding in public schools since the governor took office in 2011.

Corbett has blamed much of that on the loss of federal funding, though critics fault him for not finding replacement money to soften the blow. Amid painful budget cuts in schools across the state, the Corbett administration is poised to propose hundreds of millions of dollars in new education funding this year, according to several sources familiar with the plan.

Asked if he had a message for the students he had failed to meet with at Central, Corbett said: "I am sorry that we were not able to attend that. But as I said on Friday, we were not going to allow the adults there to take away from that day for those children."

"At some point in time," Corbett added, "I would love to go see them."



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