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Penn Dems students are watching “Waiting for Superman” as the last event of education week. Credit: , ,

As proposed budget cuts at a federal and state level continue to impact all aspects of civic life, this week, the spotlight fell on education.

Education Week, hosted by the Penn Democrats, highlighted various issues facing public education across the nation.

One of the reasons why it was chosen for Penn Dems’ issue advocacy week was for its broad appeal.

“We felt that it was the most pertinent issue that garnered most interest from students, especially with the University’s support of the [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act,” Penn Dems President and College sophomore Isabel Friedman said.

The week featured discussions centered around school vouchers and school choice, the DREAM Act and the current state and future of Philadelphia schools. It concluded with a showing of “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary about education reform, on Thursday night.

Monday’s debate around school vouchers, which featured College senior Ali Huberlie and College freshman Charles Rubenfeld, “exposed an issue that is not neatly divided along party lines,” Friedman said.

School vouchers concern the option of giving vouchers to low-income students in troubled school districts to help pay for private school tuition — including that of religious-instruction schools, which has been a point of debate around the separation of church and state.

The discussion around the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legalization for undocumented students who have been in the country for a designated amount of time, invited a broader discussion on President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

“There’s a real gap between Obama’s rhetoric around immigration, and how that policy is carried out at the local level,” panelist and School of Arts and Sciences graduate student Adam Goodman said.

Arguments that the DREAM Act would “provide amnesty or a ‘get out of jail free’ card don’t apply plausibly to children … who are those who might benefit from the DREAM Act,” said Matthew Lister, a panelist and post-doctoral researcher at Penn School of Law.

Wednesday, the discussion turned to Philadelphia’s public school system — which, along with the state’s basic education system, would receive a 9.5-percent budget cut under Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R-Pa.) 2011-2012 budget proposal.

“What’s going wrong in inner city schools in this country is not the fault of the kids, but the adults … it’s the adults that are screwing up,” said panelist Marc Manella, the founder of the KIPP Schools, a network of open-enrollment college-preparatory schools that serve under-resourced areas.

In his annual budget address, Corbett wrote that “education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession.”

“I’m calling on the employees of our public schools … to hold the line. If it means a pay freeze, trust me, you’ll have plenty of company out there to keep you warm,” Corbett wrote.

“It’s frustrating that there’s such a harsh political climate … where education reform gets caught up in politics and bureaucracy,” College sophomore Lee Marcus said.

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