This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Spring has arrived – and with it the recurring nightmare: the School District again confronting a catastrophic budget situation. Superintendent William Hite said he needs $440 million in new revenue to operate schools at an adequate level next fall. The first $200 million of that figure will merely head off another round of cuts. That’s because the current budget was balanced using one-time funds and because costs for pensions, benefits, and charters climb each year.
So far, just a fraction of the money needed to avert more cuts is committed. Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget increases education spending but steers much of the new money to less needy districts. His proposal disregards the dire plight of Philadelphia and other struggling systems. But it will be a heavy lift to get the legislature to alter that plan. Many advocates are turning their attention to electing a new governor committed to addressing the state’s gross school funding inequities.
Given Harrisburg politics, city officials have an easy decision. Do they find $195 million in new funds that Hite has asked them for – or do they tell students, “Too bad, the state won’t fund us, so we can’t afford ‘extras’ like sports, music, and counselors”?
If City Council and the mayor agree that the money is needed, then they shouldn’t dither about delivering it. Council should immediately approve the 1 percent sales tax extension authorized by the legislature and secure $120 million for city schools – thus providing most of what’s needed to avert another round of cuts. Council and the mayor want to use half those dollars for the city’s pension gap, but more time is available to deal with that looming crisis. We can’t endure another mad summer with the superintendent on the news saying public schools may not open their doors. More families will flee the city, more educators will seek jobs elsewhere, and the District’s downward spiral will accelerate. Message to city officials: Act now!
This editorial appears in the Notebook’s print edition focusing on using school time wisely.