Segments in this Video

Public Education (03:26)


Public education is under attack throughout the U.S., despite serving 90% of the country's students. Activists fight to protect schools and funding. Many education reformers want to privatize public schools and run education like a business.

Philadelphia Education System (04:59)

Privatization of schools is happening rapidly, placing public schools in financial crisis. The South Philadelphia High School principal greets students; students reflect on their education. Experts discuss education budget cuts. Activists march in the streets and attend a vigil.

Charter Schools (05:37)

Charters, originally conceived by Al Shanker, are publicly funded, but privately managed; one third of Philadelphia students attend charters in 2013-2014. Diane Ravitch seeks to end privatization; "corporate reformers" oppose Ravitch. Charters hire non-union teachers to reduce costs.

South Philadelphia High School (02:27)

Approximately 142,000 Philadelphia students attend public schools in 2013-2014. South Philadelphia has a high poverty rate and immigrant population; many students have high needs.

Charter School Criticism (05:23)

Laws require charter schools to be open to all students; critics cite discriminatory practices. Some charters have higher rates of suspension and expulsion; South Philadelphia receives new students from charter schools every day. See statistical comparisons between charter and public schools.

Resources and Student Achievement (05:51)

Many of the country's wealthiest citizens donate to charter schools. Nationally, student performance differs little between charter and public schools. Public schools lack funding and struggle to provide a well-rounded academic environment. Activists march for public schools.

School Choice and Vouchers (05:28)

Nearly all public schools in New Orleans are privately managed. Parents can obtain tax payer-funded vouchers for private tuition; opponents file lawsuits. Wealthy donors fund reform.

Religion and Education (03:54)

Experts discuss education and discipline in religious schools; Hosanna Christian Academy has 485 voucher students. Louisiana laws allow charter and voucher schools to hire unlicensed teachers. Religious leaders support vouchers.

Private School Choice (04:47)

Reformers market vouchers as scholarships and tax credits. Approximately $1.2 billion of public funds finances private school tuition, reducing funding for public schools like South Philadelphia High School; the school has no music teacher. Philadelphia closes 24 public schools.

Impact of School Closures (03:53)

South Philadelphia's enrollment has doubled, but the high school has no extra funding; an expert cites school closure statistics. Boris Zhinin now attends a school that his mother fears will also be closed.

Charter Scandals (02:25)

Philadelphia charter schools receive close scrutiny from the School Reform Commission once every five years; 19 schools are under federal investigation. Privatizing public schools eliminates the public's voice on public spending.

Test-Based Reform (10:19)

Ravitch refutes claims that the quality of public education is declining; experts discuss No Child Left Behind. Race to the Top intensifies the reform tactics. Tennessee teachers reflect on testing practices and impact. Teacher evaluations are tied to student scores.

Teachers Unions (03:09)

Weakening the power of unions is a critical aspect of the education reform agenda. The experience level of the typical U.S. teacher is 1-2 years; state spending on standardized tests has increased over 200%. In 2014, SRC cancels its contract with the Philadelphia teachers' union.

Cyber Charters (07:02)

Imani discusses attending school online. In 2013-2014, taxpayers in 30 states fund online education. Online schools are the most profitable type of school. Experts refute the quality of education.

Poverty and Education (05:42)

South Philadelphia staff discuss facility defects; students reflect on their future. Education reformers want all students to achieve the same standards regardless of circumstances. Experts compare education and school funding in wealthy and low-income areas.

Good Public Schools (06:26)

Despite poverty, 94% of Union City, NJ graduates attend college after high school graduation. In the 1990s, leaders commit to strengthening public schools. Educators emphasize hands-on project-based learning.

Philadelphia School Funding Crisis (03:41)

At City Hall, school principals express frustration with budget cuts. Schools lack nurses, counselors, and more. Activists stage a sit-in at the governor's office.

Philadelphia Public Education (05:19)

Students graduate South Philadelphia in 2014. The approval of a cigarette tax helps schools avoid layoffs, but does not improve conditions; civil rights attorneys demand equal funding. Tom Wolf wins the gubernatorial seat and vows to address education reform.

Epilogue (03:01)

Helen Gym becomes a Philadelphia City Council member, Otis Hackney is the city's Chief Education Officer, and Gov. Wolf increases school funding. Twenty three states provide less funding per student than before 2008. Betsy DeVos becomes Secretary of Education and supports charter schools.

Credits: Backpack Full of Cash (04:36)

Credits: Backpack Full of Cash

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Backpack Full of Cash

DVD (Chaptered) Price: $250.00
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $375.00
3-Year Streaming Price: $250.00



Narrated by Matt Damon, this feature-length documentary, filmed inside classrooms, exposes the devastating impact of the corporate-driven reform movement in Philadelphia and other cities where public education, starved of resources, hangs in the balance.  BACKPACK FULL OF CASH also showcases the everyday heroes fighting for public education and presents a working model for improving our schools. 

Length: 98 minutes

Item#: BVL192755

ISBN: 978-1-64623-464-6

Copyright date: ©2017

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Eye-opening…Straightforward and without any frills, Backpack is a call to action for any mother, father, and student.”—Escape Into Film, Seattle International Film Festival Capsule Movie Reviews

“A scary but important story about…the country’s most important civic institution.”—Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post

“Striking images…Backpack Full of Cash exposes the insidious effects of charter schools on on public education today.”—The Independent Magazine

“A must-see…Shows how real people are affected by these policies. Thus, it has real impact.”—The Huffington Post

“Thought-provoking…A compelling argument against privatization and school vouchers.”—Michael Compton, Bowling Green Daily News, Bowling Green, KY

“A beautiful film– tremendously moving!…Everyone who values democratic education needs to see this.”—Jonathan Kozol, Advocate for children and author of Savage Inequalities

“Riveting…Debunks the notion that market-based ‘reforms’ will improve public education.”— David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center (Newark, NJ)

“Terrific! An amazing accomplishment, full of meaning and emotion.”—Nancy Carlsson-Paige, educator and author of Taking Back Childhood

“A heartbreaking account of massive educational theft.”— George Abbott White, Massachusetts public school teacher for 42 years

“Hard Hitting! People know in their gut that something is wrong but they don’t know the details. The film can get into every community and be used thousands of times.”—Matthew Seig, award-winning filmmaker and Media Specialist, NY Foundation for the Arts

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