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Still short of funds, School District turns its eyes to Harrisburg

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Despite securing additional funding from City Council last week, the Philadelphia School District still faces a budget gap that threatens to strip its already bare-bones schools even further.

All eyes have now turned to the State Capitol.

Philly schools need $66 million just to provide students next year with this year’s admittedly "insufficient" resource levels.

That’s after selling buildings, getting principals to agree to less compensation, and leveraging City Council to borrow $57 million on its behalf.

If any more new revenue is going to come, it will have to be approved by the Republican-controlled, tax-averse state legislature.

"Everyone is definitely aware of the situation in Philadelphia," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman of House majority leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

One of the big questions for the state is whether it will allow Philadelphia to place a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold in the city.

Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved that tax a year ago, but it needs state approval to implement the tax.

City Council President Darrell Clarke met with GOP leaders, including Turzai, in Harrisburg on Wednesday to continue his push for approval of the measure.

"It’s on the table." Miskin said. "It’s not definitive, but, you know, we did have some good discussions."

Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, added, "It’s late in the month to be saying this, I know, but the discussions are still fairly preliminary at this point."

Clarke said passage would likely require "horse trading and a little bit of bartering" on issues that typically divide along partisan lines.

The state, which faces a $1.4 billion budget shortfall of its own, is supposed to pass a budget by the end of the month.

Gov. Corbett has said he wants the legislature to cut the cost of public employee pensions and modernize the state’s liquor stores before raising any taxes.

Many expect state lawmakers to debate these and other budget issues into July.

Clarke anticipates making "another trip or two before this is all over."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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