A group of four parents and school employeeskicked off a hunger strike on the steps of the governor’s office on Monday to protest Philadelphia’s recent decision to close dozens of underutilized schools and lay off some 19 percent of the workforce, including “all 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides.” The protesters say they will fast “until the cash-strapped Philadelphia district gets enough city and state funding to hire back” the aides.
The reductions come after Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and the legislature slashed the K-12 education budget by 12 percent, or $961 million. The district is currently operating under a $304 million budget deficit and the superintendent is asking teachers to accept salary cuts of between 5 and 13 percent.
“I care about my daughter and grandson,” hunger striker and parent Earlene Bly in a statement first reported by MSNBC. “I am making this sacrifice to make sure they have safe schools. I am fasting to show my family and the city how serious this situation is.” The union Unite Here Local 634, which represents school food aides in Philadelphia, is coordinating with the hunger strikers.
Parents and school officials fear that low-income, special needs and bilingual students who rely heavily on school counsels will suffer most from the cuts. The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in October alleging that the schools closed by the district in 2012 also had “a higher population of minority students than the district average.”
Philadelphia has experienced a decrease in public school enrollment in recent years, as students are increasingly attending private charter schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, “the proportion of students attending charter schools jumped to 23 percent,” up from from 12 percent in 2004-2005.