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Arne Duncan Says Philly School Funding is "Unacceptable"

By guest blogger Lesli A. Maxwell. Crossposted from District Dossier.

In a visit to Philadelphia over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the city's battered public schools are "starved for resources" and that current state levels of investment in K-12 are "unacceptable," the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

The secretary, who has been known before to weigh in with strong opinions on local education matters, spoke at length about the funding crisis in Philadelphia that has left the big city system, once again, on the verge of massive layoffs and another devastating round of spending cuts.

It's the second time in a year that the Education Secretary has made such public remarks about Philadelphia's fiscal crisis. Last July, he issued a formal statement urging Pennsylvania politicians and education officials to address the district's financial meltdown that, at the time, threatened to postpone the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Earlier this month, the Philadelphia district approved a $2.6 billion budget that includes a $93 million gap. But city officials and local education leaders are counting on bridging part of that gap with revenue generated from a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes and savings from the local teachers' union, whose contract expired last August. The cigarette tax must still be approved by state lawmakers.

Duncan was in Philly to meet with Mayor Michael Nutter and young African-American men to discuss the obstacles that many black and Latino youth face in finishing high school, and attending and completing college--an event that is part of the White House's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.

According to the Daily News, Duncan said that the "children of Philly deserve better," after hearing stories from the young men about the hardships of attending city schools that have no counselors or extracurricular activities. He went on to say, according to the newspaper:

"This is a system that is desperately underfunded, that is starved for resources, and there is simply no upside there. And to see the personnel cuts, to see the after-school programs go away, the counselors, I just have a simple question: How is that good for children? How is that good for the city, or for the state, or for our nation?" he added.

Some strong words from the nation's top education official. Whether his statements will persuade state and local leaders to find agreement on how to address the situation remains to be seen.

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