This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphians have been stepping up in many ways to address the huge resource gaps in schools. Teachers are digging deeper into their own pockets. Parents are volunteering in offices and classrooms. We’ve seen a school supplies fund, a restaurant fundraiser, a “Last Waltz” benefit concert, and lately a #StackThatPaper campaign. All this activity shows widespread understanding of how dire the situation is.
If only our elected leaders showed similar urgency and creativity. City Council and the mayor have been short on ideas for government action. As we wrote last year, many officials convey the attitude that “We’ve done our part. And then some. Now it’s somebody else’s turn.” We’ve even heard complaints that the schools are draining city resources, as if educating children were a luxury.
It’s true that Philadelphia is among the nation’s most heavily taxed cities. Its citizens have been targeted with a number of increases in recent years to aid schools – property tax hikes, a sales tax surcharge, and now a planned cigarette tax. But the schools’ fiscal crisis threatens the city’s revitalization. That’s not lost on many of the people and organizations that have brought new wealth and energy into Philadelphia in recent years, as the city has become a cool place to be.
Surely additional local revenues can be found, along with provisions for heightened transparency and accountability to assure that school dollars are spent wisely.
Local groups have suggested ways to raise funds. Scale back the city’s 10-year property tax abatements. Stop giving breaks to large corporations like Comcast and SugarHouse. Seek payments from nonprofit universities and hospitals that profit from commercial activities. Cut down on all forms of tax delinquency.
Philadelphia can’t fix the funding crisis on its own. But it must do better at mitigating the damage.