By Solomon Leach
President Obama's education secretary said Philadelphia schools are "starved for resources" and strongly urged state lawmakers to step up investment in education during a visit to the city yesterday. Arne Duncan's comments followed a roundtable discussion at Community College of Philadelphia with Mayor Nutter and a dozen young men of color about their challenges in education.
"The children of Philly deserve better than what they have. The lack of funding, the lack of commitment at the state level is simply unacceptable," Duncan said.
"This is a system that is desperately underfunded, that is starved for resources, and there is simply no upside there. And to see the personnel cuts, to see the after-school programs go away, the counselors, I just have a simple question: How is that good for children? How is that good for the city, or for the state, or for our nation?" he added.
Duncan said the decision for state lawmakers to do more, not just for students in the city, but across the state, should be a "no-brainer."
The Philadelphia School District needs $93 million just to maintain the status quo, leaving many schools without guidance counselors or librarians, which officials describe as "inadequate."
Political gridlock in Harrisburg has delayed a Philadelphia $2-per-pack cigarette tax, which could generate $45 million for the district this year, though a vote is scheduled next month.
The federal government provides roughly 8 percent to 10 percent of funding for K-12 schools. Duncan said education will always be a locally driven issue, but acknowledged that, at all levels, [education] is the best investment we can make."
Earlier in the day, Duncan was flanked by Nutter as they heard from young men about how they stayed on -- and in some cases, got back on -- their path to higher education. The dialogue was part of the My Brother's Keeper initiative, which Obama launched in February, to address opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color.
Ricardo Rosario, a Kensington resident working on his associate degree at Esperanza College of Eastern University in Feltonville, said his involvement with a high-school mentoring program helped him become the first in his family to attend college. He said the lack of male role models is a major issue for many young men.
"A lot of us don't believe we can achieve what we actually can," Rosario said. "I believe that everything is obtainable if we just put our minds to it."
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