Tom Corbett could not escape the ugly headlines last Friday when he beat a hasty retreat from his planned visit to Central High School. The Republican governor, whose approval ratings have tanked — in part because of his massive cuts to public eduction — needed to make sure his opponents could no longer say that he had never visited a Philly public school. Because he hasn’t. Not once.
But there was a large demonstration outside Central, and students were planning their own protest indoors. That, too, would look bad. So Corbett cancelled the event at the very last minute and, in doing so, turned a difficult political moment into a self-inflicted public-relations meltdown. He told reporters gathered at a relocated press conference in Center City that he had “decided not to engage in the theatrics that have been designed by adults within and outside the system.”
But it was Corbett who had planned to use students as props for political theater for his troubled 2014 reelection campaign. “No adults put us up to anything,” tweeted Kirstie Floyd, an 18-year-old Central senior. “He just switched up last minute so the masses wouldn’t have time to get to where he went.”
If Corbett cannot stomach visiting a top-ranked magnet school like Central, it’s impossible to imagine him visiting a neighborhood school that is suffering even more from the widespread layoffs of teachers, nurses and counselors.
Meanwhile, Corbett will continue to manage the schools’ implosion through his proxies on the state-run School Reform Commission, which he nominated city Councilman Bill Green to chair.
In the past, Green has been a strong advocate of school vouchers and charters. His appointment prompted a blistering attack from Mayor Michael Nutter, who called it “frankly perplexing given his votes against some education-funding measures and his published views on public education.” Nutter’s comments were welcome but frankly perplexing too, since the mayor has also been a proponent of privately oriented reform measures.
Tellingly, when pressed, Green declined to say whether he thought Corbett had harmed public education.The two should plan to visit a Philly public school together. But next time, Corbett should come with money in hand to pay for the education these students deserve.
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