The Real-Life Impact of Undermining Public Schools: A Philadelphia Inquirer Profile

Stephen Herzenberg |

A profile of a teacher in this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer brings to life the real-life consequences, for teachers and for children, of the deep funding cuts in the School District of Philadelphia in the past several years. Multiple obstacles to effective teaching—including large classes and an assignment to teach special education without having trained for it and without mentoring or other support—finally led a committed young professional to change careers. Still determined to serve others, she will train to become a nurse.

The scale of education funding cuts, which disproportionally hit Philadelphia, was documented in a recent PBPC report on school funding. These cuts—and the draining of funds from public schools by charter schools, many of them underperforming—led to the crisis summarized in the Inquirer profile.

The story paints a picture of a system that is taking its best teachers down with it. The teacher profiled fears that, deliberately or not, we are switching to a “high turnover” employment model, with teachers routinely leaving just about the time that they have the experience they need to be their most effective in the classroom.

The Corbett-Tobash pension plan—which the governor is now selling on a statewide tour—would further destabilize teaching careers (as explained on page 14 of our pension primer analyzing the Corbett-Tobash plan). Under this plan, according to pension consultants to the governor and the PSERS retirement system, benefits would be cut 40% or more for many career teachers. Given teacher salaries are already 25% or more below comparably educated private sector employees on average—further below in financially stressed urban districts (in which public salaries are lower than affluent suburbs by private sector salaries are higher)—why remain a public school teacher?

The best teachers provide the best education, and the best teachers improve with experience. Our public schools, including in Philadelphia, need the resources to attract and retain the best teachers with adequate funding and an competitive benefit package. Where’s the state plan for that?