October 17, 2013

It's about time. Under fire from civil rights and advocacy groups, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett finally freed the hostage.

Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday he has agreed to release $45 million for the Philadelphia schools that his administration had held up as the state's largest school district goes through its worst financial crisis in memory and questions swirl about a girl's apparently asthma-related death after attending a school without a nurse on site.

Corbett made the announcement at an unrelated news conference in his Capitol offices. He did not take questions afterward. However, he said his decision came a day after a letter from the Philadelphia school superintendent, William Hite, convinced him that district officials had made enough progress toward the governor's educational and financial goals for improvements in the 134,000-student district.

A spokesman for Corbett said the release of the money and the girl's death were not connected.

Maybe, and then again, maybe not. After Laporshia Massey died of an asthma attack, concerned parents signed petitions demanding those funds be released. In the face of mounting public pressure, releasing those funds seems like the least Corbett can do.

AFT President Randi Weingarten applauds:

"The $45 million of federal funding that Gov. Corbett finally released today—albeit much too late—is an important step for Philadelphia's public school children. The money can provide immediate relief to a resource-starved school district. It can bring back nurses, counselors, safety officers, secretaries and, of course, some teachers that Philadelphia schools need to be safe and healthy and provide educational opportunities for all children.

"Let me be clear: There should never have been a delay in the release of these funds. But thanks to the united voices of thousands of parents, students, teachers and community activists from Philadelphia and across the country, Gov. Corbett has finally done the right thing."

"But still, this is just one step. We cannot and will not rest until public schools in Philadelphia are fully and fairly funded. And we will continue to unite with parents, students and community activists to reclaim the promise of public education in Philadelphia."

That's the thing. Release of these funds didn't come without a price, and the price was to remove seniority as a factor for deciding which teachers and support staff can be cut from schools:

Under the old rules, dictated by the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, principals who would have to downsize staff would have to do it strictly on the basis of seniority. Under Hite’s directive, they do not have to use seniority as the sole determining factor.

The “leveling” occurs because some schools end up with fewer students than originally expected, while others end up with more.

Hite and the School Reform Commission have argued that they have the right to impose new work rules without approval of the PFT because of powers granted to them under Act 46, the law that allowed the state to takeover operations of the district. The PFT’s old contract with the district expired August 31.

It's a small thing, and certainly the release of funds is significant. But in typical Republican fashion, they had to take their pound of flesh in order to do the right thing for schools and students.

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