Philadelphia rally against public school closures

Wells Fargo profits at the expense of city school district

Dec. 15 protest against school closures, Philadelphia
Photo: John Roberts

On Dec. 15, activists came together to denounce proposed actions of the School Reform Commission to close dozens of public schools in Philadelphia.

Chants of “Public schools for education, not for corporate exploitation!” and “The SRC may make the rules, but we won't let them close our schools!” resounded as the activists circled along 17th and Market to protest the closing of 37 public schools (with up to 44 a possibility at the time of this writing). A march proceeded from there to 440 N Broad Street, the School District of Philadelphia's Education Center, to expose the injustice being planned in private by the SRC.

The school closures are largely the result of predatory school district debt swap deals, for which Wells Fargo Bank is a primary beneficiary—while also being the largest funder of prison construction in Pennsylvania. The debt swap deals are complex transactions in which debts were exchanged between the school district and the bank, supposedly to protect the district against rising interest rates. Instead, the 2007-2009 crash and economic stagnation that followed caused interest rates to fall sharply, resulting in big losses for the district and windfall profits for Wells Fargo.

According to a report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center: "Interest payments and cancellation fees associated with these interest rate swaps … have cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars. … Many of these financial losses have already been realized, but currently active deals mean the city stands to lose millions more in the years to come."

A teach-in held by students and a teacher at a Wells Fargo branch in Center City earlier in the day resulted in the branch managers locking the doors and notifying the police. A student involved in the teach-in, Jacob Marberger, said, “Wells Fargo is getting so eager about prison funding, they are turning the branches into them!”

Without regard to the students who will have to relocate to attend new and unfamiliar schools, without regard to the school workers and faculty who will likely face layoffs and unemployment, without regard to the communities that rely on the schools, the closures will undoubtedly proceed and escalate. SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos commented at a recent public hearing, “I have every expectation that at the end of this process, not everybody will happy, but at least we can be comfortable that we've been fair and the decisions [have been] considered.”

Not many will be happy indeed, other than those who uphold the interests of corporations who seek to profit from the evisceration of Philadelphia public schools.

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