Philadelphia, PA – Thirty activists and parents with the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools protested House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s visit to a Philadelphia charter school on Monday morning. Cantor delivered a speech at the Freire Charter School calling for “school choice” that would take money from public schools and redirect it towards unproven charters. He also called on the Department of Justice to cease a suit against New Orleans schools for a voucher program alleged to violate federal desegregation orders.
“As we see so clearly in Philadelphia, the ‘school choice’ programs favored by politicians like Cantor are victimizing public schools and the families that rely on them, particularly low-income people of color. We need regulation and reform of how charter schools are funded, not vouchers that will further drain funds from regular public schools,” said Fight for Philly Member Rosalind Applewhite, a parent of a Philadelphia public schools graduate.
Kia Hinton, a public school parent and Chair of the ACTION United Education Committee, said, “We know that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is in Philadelphia to advocate for an amendment to the No Child Left Behind law that he orchestrated. The amendment would allow a student who transfers from a public school to a charter school to take the federal dollars that go to that school with them. Federal funding, known as Title 1, is specifically targeted to public schools serving low-income families. So Cantor’s amendment could rob poor students of much-needed funding.”
Protesters chanted “They say ‘cut backs,’ we say ‘fight back’” and “Hey hey, ho ho, austerity budgets have got to go.” They held up signs reading “Keep public schools public,” “Flunk you,” and “F-.”
“We wish that Rep. Cantor could understand the problems facing so many families in this low wage, low employment economy. Instead of demanding cuts, he should find ways to help people and also stimulate the economy,” said John Dodds, Director, Philadelphia Unemployment Project.
“Instead of wasting time and money trying to defeat Obamacare, we need Eric Cantor and other politicians to focus on what our communities desperately need – good jobs, funding for our schools and quality healthcare for everyone,” said Shanrika Nelson, a certified nursing assistant and member of SEIU Healthcare PA from Somerton Center.
“Eric Cantor can re-brand ‘school choice’ all he wants, but ultimately it’s the same privatization agenda that has starved PA public schools of $1 billion and funneled scarce education dollars into unaccountable charter schools,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President and PA Director of 32BJ SEIU.
In 2013, more than a half a billion dollars in federal funds will be cut from urban school districts like Philadelphia as a result of the budget sequestration that GOP extremists forced through Congress. The House of Representatives, under Eric Cantor’s direction, just voted to slash food stamp funding by $40 billion. Millions of people across the country would lose a vital source of food, including 140,000 Pennsylvanians, meaning more kids would come to school hungry. The House has also voted to defund Obamacare, setting up a budget showdown that could lead to a government shutdown.
Funneling more money to unproven charter schools and away from public education is no solution to urban school woes. Schools need more money, period. Taking money from them is part of the larger GOP agenda of austerity and slashes to crucial social programs.