As it happened, Michelle Rhee and I nearly crossed paths in
Philadelphia. This
article describes our contrasting visions
for the public
schools of Philadelphia. She spoke on September 16, in a panel that
included George Parker, the former head of the Washington Teachers
Union, who now works for Rhee, and Steve Perry, ex-CNN commentator.

Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the schools in 2011, while cutting corporate taxes. He later added back a small part of the cut, but he left many districts in terrible fiscal trouble.

Philadelphia public schools have a deficit of $300 million, and
thousands of staff have been laid off, including teachers, guidance
counselors, social workers, librarians, and many others. Bear in mind that the Philadelphia public schools have been under state control for more than a decade. During that time, Superintendent Paul Vallas launched the nation’s most sweeping privatization experiment, which failed, according to independent evaluations.

According to this article (and in an op-ed published in the Philadelphia
Inquirer), Rhee saw the fiscal crisis as an opportunity to
introduce performance pay. How that would close the budget deficit
was unclear.

In my presentation at the Philadelphia Free Library, I read the language of the state
constitution, which unequivocally assigns responsibility to the
state of Pennsylvania to support a thorough and efficient education
for every child. That is not the case today. Governor Tom Corbett
expects the state-controlled School Reform Commission to squeeze
savings out of the teachers’ contracts, cutting salaries, benefits,
and laying off more teachers. That is not the way to go.

Someday the children of Philadelphia will be the voters of Pennsylvania or
some other state. They must be educated to choose their leaders
wisely. Someday these children may sit on a jury where YOU will be
judged. Just hope that they have the wisdom, knowledge, and
compassion to judge you fairly. My view: The children of
Philadelphia are as worthy of a good education as the children in
the nearby suburbs. They need small classes, experienced teachers,
arts programs, well-maintained facilities, guidance counselors,
libraries staffed by librarians, up-to-date technology. They need
what the parents in the suburbans want for their children. And they
deserve nothing less.