This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Beyond the immediate crisis facing schools is the troubling reality that even if the District secures additional funds to restore critical staff and programs, there will be yet another crunch next spring. Several hundred million dollars in additional, recurring revenue is needed to close the structural budget gap and escape this annual cycle of financial turmoil.
While a proposed sales tax extension would deliver $120 million annually, it is capped at that amount. That sum will soon be outpaced by rapidly escalating costs in areas like charter schools and pensions.
There is one way to break the cycle. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania does not have a funding formula for fairly determining districts’ costs and delivering dollars to address needs. Philadelphia is this year’s poster child for budget calamity, but districts across the state are bleeding. There is an opportunity for a broad, statewide alliance of education stakeholders to work together to change that.
To start, our elected officials (see p. 12) must be propelled into action by citizens bombarding them with details of the outrageous consequences of underfunding schools. Meanwhile, Philadelphia should draw up and publicize a real budget that communicates how much money is actually needed to provide all schools with the basics – a funding target for ensuring reasonable class sizes, books and supplies, art and music, counselors, nurses, etc.
The question “What did our elected officials do this month to get us to that goal?” should be a regular agenda topic of every board and organization concerned about schools. Ultimately what’s needed is for all of us to vote on the basis of which politicians can demonstrate a commitment to our children’s education.