by Kevin Hart
When cuts are deep enough, they can leave ugly scars. That’s the lesson being learned across Pennsylvania this year, as some of the state’s poorest districts try to cope with $860 million in funding cuts advanced by Governor Tom Corbett – cuts educators say are causing serious and permanent harm to the state’s neediest students.
The Chester Upland School District outside Philadelphia, where students face issues ranging from poverty to drug-related violence before they enter their classrooms each day, became the face of the funding crisis in January, when the district announced that it would not be able to make payroll. The members of the Chester Upland Education Association and the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association banded together and voted to continue working without knowing when or if they’d be paid in order to keep the district from failing.
As the Chester Upland crisis became a national story – President Barack Obama invited district teacher Sara Ferguson to attend his 2012 State of the Union address – the Corbett administration could not wash its hands quickly enough of the mess it had caused. Corbett even publicly blamed the district – which laid off 40 percent of its teachers and half its unionized support staff before the start of the year – for its own financial troubles.
But Pennsylvania educators say Corbett’s finger-pointing can’t obscure a simple fact – Chester Upland is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, districts throughout the state are dealing with their own Corbett-initiated funding crises.