Backpack Full of Cash

Documentary Films | 2016 | 96 minutes

SIFF Says:

At the start of the 2013-14 school year, South Philadelphia High School’s student-body poverty rate was in excess of 90 percent. The principal tried to cope with this by having no music teacher, no librarian, and just two counselors for more than 1,000 students. Meanwhile, just a few miles away, in North Philly, students are able to use high-tech tools to allow remote learning via laptop computer. What’s the difference? The school to the north is a “charter school”: a for-profit enterprise that accepts public funding in the form of “vouchers,” but is not held to the same standards as the public school to the south. This sobering documentary by Sarah Mondale, narrated by actor Matt Damon, explores the rising trend among many higher-income, socially conservative parents who want to spend their child’s “backpack full of cash”―their lifetime allotment of public-education dollars―at whichever school they choose. Mondale investigates schools across the country, visiting similar charter-schools―from Nashville, where 8-year-olds are given dozens of standardized tests in a school year, to New Orleans, where tax dollars are being siphoned from cash-strapped public schools to teach creationism as scientific fact. Backpack Full of Cash is a wake-up call for those who believe high-quality public education should be available to people of all incomes and races and should not be left to the “free market” to decide.

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Film Credits
Sarah Mondale
Matt Damon
SIFF 2017