Digging for Philly social service pork

When I posted my thoughts last week on the Sunlight Foundation’s exposing earmarks project, I refrained from delving into the details of what I found when looking at the Philly and Chicago allotments. Mark Tapscott–blogger, journalist and race car driver– subtly called me out for my failure in a comment I excerpt here:

what if you were to dig a little deeper and find that the price of the hospital equipment being “purchased” with federal money via an anonymous earmark is made by a company owned by one of the earmark-sponsoring congressman’s biggest campaign donors or former college buddy?…The problem is not the purpose of the spending, it is the anonymity of the process for authorizing the spending.

Indeed.

Others, of course, have done fairly extensive digging on such questions. Prompted by Tapscott, I’m going to briefly examine some of the social service earmarks I perused on Wednesday. Because I share a roof with someone who spent several years in Philly providing such services, and she doesn’t mind aiding me in this venture, I will start with the city of brotherly love.

  • The Educational Advancement Alliance, $400,000, “for a college preparation initiative.” Neither of us had ever heard of this organization, whose stated mission is to “provide educational information and opportunities to members of underrepresented groups. EAA works with individuals to map out goals and objectives for higher educational attainment and foster the development of self-esteem, self-confidence, leadership skills, academic achievement, team work and social responsibility.”

EAA lists several programs– as Advanced College Academy Program, an After School Enrichment Program, and the (hmmm) Chaka Fattah Learning Lab.

Fattah, who represents Pennsylvania’s Second District– the Fightin’ Second– is in his sixth term, is a leading candidate to be the city’s next mayor and is married to local TV news reader Renee Chenault-Fattah. As the Inquirer pointed out last month (via A Smoke Filled Room), Fattah maintains good relations with local philanthropists

Fattah credited his work on education issues, most notably the creation of the GEAR UP program, which educates kids about college opportunities, for prompting the Weiss donation.

And just what does the Fattah Learning Lab do? An EAA newsletter calls it:

a high-tech “state-of-the-art” science lab on wheels visiting Philadelphia public elementary schools… an innovative resource to coordinate programs and school projects and to share with students the fun and mystery of science in the parking lot of their neighborhood school.

[It] is a former 47-passenger bus that has been converted into an exciting science center on wheels complete with science equipment, comfortable seating, and up-to-date video and audio equipment. The Learning Lab provides students in grades 4-6 with the opportunity to experience hands-on science experiments in a unique setting outside the traditional classroom.

And from the EAA site:

  • The Fattah Learning Lab is designed to provide a hands-on learning experience to schools, recreations centers and libraries
  • Designed to promote a foundation and improved knowledge base in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
  • Accommodates 20 students
  • Target audience is grades 4 -6…
  • A total of 125 teachers / classrooms have visited the Learning Lab.
  • Over 4,500 students have experienced hands-on learning since January 31, 2005.

I find no reason to question the Lab’s legitimacy. The Philly schools are, of course, underserved and under-financed. I am sure the mobile Lab comes in handy and have no basis for questioning its efficacy or that of the staff of the EAA– if they are like other folks I know in their business, they are underpaid, overworked and dedicated. But Tapscott’s point stands– “the problem is not the purpose of the spending, it is the anonymity of the process for authorizing the spending.” Plus, I always find it kind of hinky when buildings, or vehicles, are named for living people.

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