Isn't it funny how new prisons open just after the factories and the public schools close? It must be that efficiency and responsiveness that the free market priesthood is always boasting about.

Isn't it funny how state governments and the Sacred Taxpayer balk at spending $5000 per public school student per year but don't balk at the $75,000+ per year that it costs to incarcerate one person? The free market encourages such forward-thinking investment.

The city of Philadelphia is closing 23 public schools to save money while breaking ground on a new $400 million jail and prison complex. Honestly, the reporting on this story has been disappointing. By focusing on the school closure-vs-jail opening dichotomy, it sets up the weakest possible argument. With falling enrollments (no doubt due in part to previous cycles of budget slashing) it is not hard to construct a logical argument for school closures. If these buildings are at 40% enrollment, it makes some sense for the school district to consolidate.

The real problem, which doesn't make nearly as sexy or ire-provoking of a headline, is what is happening to the schools that will remain open. The closed buildings are the least of Philadelphia students' and teachers' problems. The schools that remain open are now operating with budgets that have been cut to the bone.

Pink slips were recently sent to 19 percent of the school-based work force, including all 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides. Principals are contemplating opening in September with larger classes but no one to answer phones, keep order on the playground, coach sports, check out library books or send transcripts for seniors applying to college.

Ignore the buildings. This is the real issue. Remove everything that offers the remote possibility of keeping kids (especially in crappy neighborhoods) out of trouble – sports, clubs, music, art, etc. Then cut the staff to the point where teachers won't be able to pay attention to any individual student. Then continue to cut corporate tax rates, cry "budget deficit!", and start the cycle all over again.

So what's the overarching agenda here? Pushing people out of the city and into the suburbs? That doesn't exactly help the local tax base if the Philly school board chases residents away. Funneling more kids into charter and private schools? Conservatives have a hard-on for them, and the shittier they can make the public schools the better private/charter schools will seem by comparison. And for the students who can't afford / get into non-public schools and whose parents can't afford to move into the suburbs? Is the plan simply to use the remaining schools as hollow shells serving no purpose other than to house the children at state expense until they can be shifted to juvenile facilities, adult prison, public housing, and so on?

Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. That's the only possible outcome here when schools are stripped of everything except the light fixtures, one principal, and some teachers. We don't need a crystal ball to see how this is going to turn out.