A Philadelphia Citizen report last week erroneously included me in a list of those who opposed Lifeline Scholarship funding for Philadelphia schools in the state budget. The truth is, the Pennsylvania State Building Trades signed a letter to lawmakers urging them not to vote for a budget that included $100 million in school vouchers — not the Philadelphia Building Trades. I was publicly neutral, largely because the question is not part of my professional portfolio.
Besides, I’d be a hypocrite to oppose school choice, because I’ve exercised it myself. Yes, I send my son to a private school on the Main Line. How hypocritical would it be for me to come out publicly against an option I take advantage of for my own child? That’s a choice we made as a family, because we could afford it.
That’s why I’m open to any solution that can help families better educate their children and prepare them to be productive members of society. How can I take away that choice from other families? Aren’t their children just as important as my child?
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I’m in favor of doing anything we can to quickly help kids trapped in Philadelphia schools that consign them to a permanent underclass. I don’t think vouchers are the answer necessarily, but they should be part of a mix of possible solutions.
Doubling down on more of the same is utter insanity. The fact is, African Americans and folks without means in Philadelphia have always had school choice. It’s called lying. What the hell — the statute of limitations must be up: I lied, so my son could go to top-rated McCall Elementary School in Society Hill. And I make no apologies for it. We didn’t have financial capital at the time, but we had social capital. A family member lived in that catchment area — which meant we had to teach our child how to lie in order to get him the schooling he needed. That’s how broken our system is.
I am so frustrated by the lack of urgency when it comes to Philadelphia schools. Our laissez-faire attitude is sentencing generations of kids to lives deprived of opportunity. We know that failure to read proficiently by the end of third grade is linked to higher dropout rates and significantly lower lifetime earnings. And yet we accept that 72 percent of public school third graders in Philadelphia do not read at grade level.
Our schools prepared us to literally build this city. We did it before and we can do it again.
When I was a kid, my parents had choices. My grandmother ran a speakeasy so I could afford to go to Gesu Catholic School, and I wasn’t even Catholic. Those Jesuits taught me how to read. Sister Regina Joann would rap my knuckles — I was that guy, acting out — but her strictness always felt like an act of love.
We have to be honest about what’s up in Philly when it comes to education. The aristocratic class here educates their kids just fine. I share stages with politicians who boast that, “My children went to public school.” Well, c’mon now; your kids went to Masterman or Central, not one of our struggling neighborhood schools. Let’s not play people, Philly.
We just have to fix this — and it’s not a one-person problem. It’s all of us. It’s like the I-95 collapse — if it’s a civic responsibility to fix a highway, it’s a civic responsibility to fix our schools. And sick schools are products of sick neighborhoods, so we’ve got to flood our neighborhoods with the kind of pride and hope and love Philly showed me when I was coming up..
Our President tells a story about how, when he was a kid and his family went through hard times, his dad would say, “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity.”
Well, I remember being a little kid and riding by a building with my dad, a laborer, and him saying, “I built that building.” Every kid thinks their dad is Superman, so I’m thinking my father really built that whole building. And then I watch my older brother put on a hardhat and join him. Now I know that our schools prepared us to literally build this city. We did it before and we can do it again.
Ryan Boyer is the business manager of Laborers’ District Council and head of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council.
This article was republished with permission from the Philadelphia Citizen.