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Jennifer Yu
Up to Yu

Credit: Amanda Suarez

When the children in Philadelphia are dropped off for their first day of school in the fall, they might not recognize the schools they are returning to.

Due to a $304 million deficit, the School District of Philadelphia has been forced to pass a budget that has had absolutely brutal effects on public schools in the city. Pink slips have been sent to nearly 20 percent of the school-based work force, a number that includes over 600 teachers. Over 30 schools have been closed, forcing residents to switch to unfamiliar schools that are farther away. Every single one of the 66 instrumental music teachers serving the district has been laid off.

Come fall, students will be expected to learn in anemic schools with no arts classes, sports programs or music groups. Furthermore, in many schools, students will find themselves without librarians, secretaries, nurses or guidance counselors. School instruments have been locked away. New textbooks are a laughable concept. Principals are being forced to drive up class sizes, but there are not nearly enough staff members left to manage the classes effectively.

The most direct of the solutions proposed lie within three taxes: Use and Occupancy, which taxes the business, trade, or other commercial use and occupancy of real estate in Philadelphia, the liquor by the drink tax, which could be raised from 10 to 15 percent and a cigarette tax of $2.

All of these must be approved by City Council, and two of them — the liquor and cigarette taxes — can only be enacted with further enabling legislation from the state. The political battle and specifics of the tax increases have been fraught with complications, but at the end of the day, the only number that matters is zero: the number of these bills that have been enacted. The only one that has even been passed by City Council is the cigarette tax, but the enabling legislation for that was not passed by the state.

What I find absolutely abhorrent about this situation is the lack of responsibility on the part of local businesses, city and state legislators alike concerning this issue. Wawa recently shared literature with Pennsylvania lawmakers questioning the appropriateness of the cigarette tax. City legislators shied away from passing the Use and Occupancy tax under the pretense that passing it would discourage the state from passing the cigarette tax. State legislators have not done that and will surely soon argue that the situation would be remedied if only city legislators passed the Use and Occupancy tax.

The lack of accountability is contemptible. At the end of the day, the third graders expected to learn in skeletonized schools with no support staff to keep track of visitors are not going to care whether the city or the state is responsible for endangering their safety.

The 10th graders who can’t afford private lessons and won’t have the opportunity to try out for the all-city orchestra are not going to care who it was that locked their instruments in the supply closet and fired their teacher.

The seniors with no guidance counselors to write them college recommendations are not going to care if the state is proclaiming the city at fault or if the city is proclaiming the state at fault or if Wawa’s political lobbying and willingness to sell the futures of Philadelphia’s schoolchildren for their bottom lines is responsible.

As far as we should be concerned, everyone is responsible and equally guilty — from the adults who don’t have to go to the schools they are stripping of funding to the businesses who don’t understand that there will be no one to buy their liquor or cigarettes if parents move so their children will be able to go to reasonably-funded schools.

Legislators — both on a city and state level — seem to have forgotten that just because they have already received their educations does not mean they have the right to take others’ away. They have already had the opportunity to take up an instrument and read school books and paint runny watercolor still lifes in art class. They have already had a high school career during which they could try different things, discover where their passions lay and develop those passions on the soccer field or the debate team or the literary magazine. Their college recommendations have already been written by counselors, their schedules managed by secretaries, their sudden migraines remedied by school nurses. It’s all too easy for them to throw away sports and staff and after-school programs as if they aren’t also throwing away thousands of futures with them.

State and city politicians have already been granted an education that promised them a bright future. It’s time for them to give the children of Philadelphia back theirs.

Jennifer Yu is a rising College sophomore from Shrewsbury, Mass. She can be reached at “Up to Yu” runs biweekly during the summer.

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