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Corbett cancels visit to Philly school

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 7:48 p.m.
Students and parents who are frustrated with state education funding demonstrate on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, near Central High School in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA — Gov. Tom Corbett ditched his first scheduled visit to a district-run public school in Philadelphia, where dozens of demonstrators gathered on Friday to protest his education policies and rally for more funding.

Corbett was scheduled to present an academic award to Central High School but canceled at the last minute. Instead, he held a news conference at his office in downtown Philadelphia because he didn't want his presence to cause “a major distraction” for Central students.

“Today wasn't supposed to be about politics,” Corbett said. “It was supposed to be about how we should be recognizing the hard work of those students and teachers.”

Protesters from the Philadelphia teachers union, local churches and other community organizations saw it differently. As they rallied in front of Central, district retiree Rich Migliore called the no-show “an act of cowardice.”

Pennsylvania's largest district is weathering its worst financial crisis in recent memory. Parents and teachers in the heavily Democratic city say it was worsened by Corbett's budget-balancing cuts to school aid in 2011.

The Republican governor, who is running for re-election, has been traveling the state to commend high-achieving schools like Central. Two other Philadelphia schools made the cut: Masterman and George Washington Carver.

Corbett called the district-run schools “shining examples of what is working in public education, not only in Philadelphia but across the commonwealth.” Corbett, who has promoted private, parochial and charter schools, hasn't visited a district-operated school in the city.

Members of Central High School's staff said their students' success has come in spite of the governor's leadership. They wrote an open letter to Corbett expressing “discomfort” with his planned visit and calling for a statewide funding formula for education. Pennsylvania is one of three states without one.

Since Corbett took office, Central has lost about $1.4 million in funding and more than 30 staff members, according to budget figures cited by Parents United for Public Education. The school librarian is being paid by a private donor.

This week, the House approved legislation that would create a commission to come up with an education funding formula. The bill requires Senate approval.

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