The Silence is Deafening—Our Broken Politics and the Schools

Under tremendous financial pressure that is the result of recession and drastic cutbacks in funding from Harrisburg, the SRC is about to blow up our school system. The SRC plan reshuffles the chairs on the Titanic but as far as I can see does little to stop the ship from sinking.

They Mayor tells us we have no choice (and by the way, support my property tax proposal.) And so far, not one politician in this city, not one member of Council, not one State Representative or State Senator has made a public statement about this devastating news.

Why not?

Five years ago the theme of my campaign for City Council was “Politics in Philadelphia is broken.” I put forward a simple explanation of how and why it was broken. With few exceptions, politicians in Philadelphia are members of one or another of five or six factions. Each of those five or six factions is focused primarily on squabbles with the others over contracts and patronage. What they rake off from contracts and patronage gives them the resources they need to stay in office and help their friends get into office. That enables them to survive and perhaps take a little more from another faction.

A politics of factional struggle leaves little room for thinking about the common good. It leaves little time for looking at what cities are doing in parts of the country and the world to reinvigorate themselves. And since most public policies that would benefit the whole city over the long term create some burdens on one or another powerful interest or neighborhood, which could harm the interests of one or more of the factions, our political officials are unwilling to consider any of them.

So what do they do when a crisis like this one arises? They figure out how to benefit from it. Right now the leaders of the various factions are figuring out how to get control over one or another of “achievement networks,” so that they can direct hiring and contracts in the network.

To speak out now against the whole plan—to do what I fancifully suggested the Mayor should do and lead a statewide campaign to restore funding in Harrisburg—would jeopardize their pursuit of their piece of what remains of the school system.

So they are quiet.

And left holding the bag will be teachers and students.

Breaking the teachers union not only saves money that can be turned to other purposes but enables politicians to hire the teachers they want.

And students especially those from poor neighborhood? They don’t have any resources so no faction benefits from helping them. Thee new structure of the “public schools” give them larger class sizes and schools that are ever more in the hands of local politicians who care about contracts and patronage not education.

That’s the broken politics of education in the city

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