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Pennsylvania's Corbett using schoolkids to win union battle

Gov. Tom Corbett withheld funding for Philly schools to get a leg up in a union battle until this week. Host Melissa Harris-Perry says that can't be excused.
Melissa Harris-Perry
Melissa Harris-Perry

It's one thing to shut down the government. For some people, "government" sounds vaguely evil, even tyrannical. Combine shutdown with selectively reopening a few popular programs, like military death benefits and you might be able to convince people you have done a good thing.

But to hold back funds specifically destined and already approved for the education of some of the neediest students (all in order to get the better hand in union negotiations), that's a different ball game. It's never OK to take schoolkids hostage in a political negotiation.

That's why my letter this week is to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

Dear Governor Corbett,It's me. Melissa.It was really great of you to release $45 million to Philadelphia's schools this week. But it would have been better never to have held it hostage in the first place.Philadelphia's 150,000 public school students are suffering enough. The district faces a $300 million shortfall and has only been able to buy needed school supplies by raising money from the community and private philanthropists. With that $45 million you withheld, the schools could've opened on time this year, without a last-minute $50 million loan taken out by the city's mayor.Now, the district can rehire 400 teachers, guidance counselors and other staff members. Music education and sports will be restored. Fewer students will be packed into classrooms with peers from different grades.The state of Philly public schools will become slightly less dire. But it could have happened months ago. And for what?You said you wouldn't release the funds until the teachers' union agreed to $103 million in concessions. Well, they haven't. You hurt some of the most vulnerable in your state, and got nothing out of it. Sound familiar?Are you following the Congressional Republican model of governance? You've seen how that turns out, right? I mean, you should know from experience. Your approval ratings are worse than the Republican Party! Worse than any other Pennsylvania governor in modern history.Your office made sure to let Philadelphia parents know that your decision to release the 45 million dollars was based on quote "improvements" to the district -- which closed 23 schools this summer. You made sure Philly's parents knew that your decision had nothing to do with the death of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died in September after an asthma attack.Her family claims that she may still be alive if there had been a nurse at the school to recognize her symptoms and get her medical help. We may never know what would have happened if there was a nurse there that day. But the case brought our attention -- the nation's attention -- to the sad state of Philly schools.The money will not be used to rehire any of the more than 100 school nurses the district has let go in the past two years. As your administration said, Philly schools meet the minimum allowable by state law -- one nurse per 1,500 students.And that's enough, apparently.This is in a city where 22% of children have had asthma in their short lives -- and more than half have ended up in the emergency room because of it. It's the highest rate in the state. And asthma rates are worse among black children and poor children and inner city children across the country.Governor, open your eyes to the fact that kids in Philly public schools -- disproportionately black and poor -- are needier than most. That means they need. More. More from you. And not just the bare minimum required. If we want these kids to have a chance at becoming happy, healthy, employed, taxpaying residents of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, shouldn't we acknowledge that they need more to get there?Shouldn't these kids be the last ones to suffer from your politics? Let me just remind you of something you said this week when you signed a bill to slightly improve the Children's Health Insurance Program. You said, and I quote: "In Pennsylvania, we take care of our own." Sincerely,Melissa