Jake Blumgart

Jake Blumgart is a freelance reporter-researcher living in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

Recent Articles

Back to School for Labor

The fight for union recognition at Philadelphia’s Olney High School shows the challenges of organizing charter schools.

Courtesy of greatphillyschools.org
Courtesy of greatphillyschools.org Olney High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Most people wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to attend a three-hour meeting after work hours. But on May 29, the board meeting of ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, a non-profit that runs four charters schools in Philadelphia, was packed with teachers, students, and other staff members. Holding signs that read “Let’s Work Together,” a group of 30 from the Olney Charter High School quietly sat through the last board meeting of the academic year, waiting to hear if ASPIRA would continue to resist their efforts to unionize. The public-comment period didn’t begin until 9:00 p.m., with a strict two-minute limit for every speaker. Olney staffers got around the rule. Instead of rushing through their own remarks, each speaker read a few paragraphs from a co-authored statement. Olney employees emphasized their desire to work with the administration and asked ASPIRA to stop fighting their...

In the Schools of Philadelphia

Flickr/It's Our City The Philadelphia School District headquarters in downtown Philadelphia On December 13, a large group of parents, students, teachers, and activists gathered in front of the headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia—a drab, low-slung building on Broad Street, one of the city’s major arteries. In the numbing cold, the crowd’s mood was bitter: The district had recently announced the 37 schools slated to be closed next fall. Around 17,000 kids will be relocated, mostly to institutions with academic records no better than those they currently attend. Chants of “The Mayor don’t care!” rippled through the crowd as attendees carried gravestone-shaped signs reading “R.I.P Philly Schools.” The protesters—among them Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)—were there to demand a moratorium on school closings, which many fear will further urban blight as school building are...

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost. Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor is concerned with the hunt for a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the highest levels of the British intelligence establishment, an agency known at “The Circus”. (Le Carré’s work popularized “mole” as a term for a double agent.) Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, Tinker Tailor ’s rumpled, aging hero. Smiley, enmeshed in a corrupt...

Death Watch for Health Clinics

Community wellness centers used to have bipartisan support -- that is, until they were included in the Affordable Care Act.

The Mary Howard Health Center sits on the first floor of a ten-story, low-rise office building a few blocks from the heart of downtown Philadelphia. The center serves the city's homeless residents, providing everything from wound care to mental-health services. Like all community health centers, Mary Howard provides health care without regard for income or insurance status. "They're doing a good job, giving me all the attention I need," says James Brown ("like the soul singer"), a 71-year-old Mary Howard patient with a painful abscess on his back the size of a fist. "It's just like a regular hospital." The center saw 1,760 patients last year, a capacity increased by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) $2 billion earmark for community health centers. Most of the $636,000 ARRA grant Mary Howard received went to expanding the center's capacity from four to ten patient rooms. Without Mary Howard, Brown says, "I would have just gone to emergency care ... but I...

Happy Birthday, Welfare Reform

Fifteen years after President Clinton cut a hole in the social safety net, poor Americans are paying the price.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system.
Fifteen years ago today, Bill Clinton signed the law that created the program commonly known as welfare-to-work, fulfilling a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Today, there is little doubt that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act did just that, removing what had been a large cash-assistance program from the social safety net. The decline continues. With the law's federal authorization expiring September 30 and the numbers of impoverished Americans climbing ever higher, welfare is a dead letter in most states. The effectiveness of a government aid program can best be judged by its performance during periods of economic turmoil. By almost any measure, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 law, has failed to cushion the neediest through recessions. While in 2009 the food-stamp program responded to the increased need for government assistance, growing by 57 percent, the number of TANF caseloads merely...