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Update on Philadelphia School District Funding Crisis: $138 Million response to $180 Million Request
Some Dollars from the State, Most Dollars from Philadelphia
I recently wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News on July 18 about the school crisis in Pennsylvania. Read my op-ed below and watch my related video clip from a rally to press Gov. Tom Corbett and Republicans who control the state Legislature for more public school funding on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in Harrisburg, Pa.
Point #1: CUTS TO STATE FUNDING HAVE BEEN DEVASTATING
- Gov. Corbett has cut $1 billion from public education
- 20,000 jobs have been eliminated by school districts statewide
- 70% of the school districts have raised property taxes to fund education
- State cuts have created a $304M deficit in Philly schools
Point #2: STATE FUNDING PACKAGE FALLS SHORT – IF APPROVED
- The state budget only includes $15.5 million in new reoccurring dollars for Philly schools
- The state budget also includes a one-time $45 million grant for Philly schools
- The total is only $60.5 million vs. $120 million requested by School District from the state
- The state provided more than $5.8 billion in funding for public education in 2008-2009. That number dropped to $5.5 billion in 2013-14 under the current Governor (see chart below)
Point #3: MOST NEW REVENUE WILL BE LOCAL – IF APPROVED
- Philly City Council must authorize a $50 million loan against future sales tax receipts
- The state must authorize a more aggressive tax collection effort to generate $28 million in funds
- 1 percent of the city sales tax revenue will be dedicated to school funding going forward
Point #4: ONE PERCENT SALES TAX HAS SILVER LINING
- If fully enacted, money from the one percent sales tax extension will go to Philly schools forever
- The total in new funding from the one percent sales tax will be $120 million annually
- This is the largest increase in local funding for public education in Philadelphia history
Point #5: STATE MUST FULLY FUND EDUCATION
- We must have statewide response to the education funding crisis
- PA Constitution says the state must provide a “thorough and efficient” education to all students
- School districts are running out of local options (like the sales tax) to fully fund our schools
PA Must Respond to School Crisis
Op-ed by State Senator Vincent Hughes - July 18, 2013
As the various elements of the imperfect funding package for the Philadelphia School District (PSD) come into place, it is important to understand the context in which it was cobbled together, its specifics, the one silver lining, and what must be done about education funding in PA going forward.
Here’s the context: Gov. Tom Corbett, playing out his part in the national attack on public education, cut over $1 billion from education funding statewide in his first three years. These cuts caused a drop in test scores, over 20,000 jobs being eliminated, classroom and extracurricular programs being reduced, and over 70% of the school districts in PA to raise property taxes to make up for the loss in state funding.
Locally, these cuts created a $304 million hole in the PSD budget which required the School Reform Commission, after closing 23 schools, to ask the City to provide an additional $60 million and the state for an additional $120 million. These extra funds were necessary to prevent massive academic reductions and staff layoffs which would essentially make every school in Philadelphia a warehouse instead of a place for education.
Despite the clear need, Republican control of the state legislature with its growing tea party presence, along with a hesitant governor’s office, created a reality that meant getting anything from the budget process would be difficult if not impossible. Now that state lawmakers have completed their legislative work for the summer, here are the specifics of what has been cobbled together by the state so far:
- New recurring state dollars: $15.5 million, which counts $14 million already included in the Governor’s budget proposal.
- A one-time only state grant: $45 million.
- Total funds in place (as of 7/15/13): $60.5 million vs. $120 million request
And there is still additional work that must be done. City Council must approve the 1 percent sales tax extension, along with a $50 million borrowing against future receipts which was authorized by the state. The PA Senate also has to approve legislation that allows Philadelphia to generate $28 million by improving local tax collection efforts. If both happen, $78 million would be added to the previous $60.5 million for a total of $138.5 million. Hopefully both can get done in the fall. The resistant and tough political reality in Harrisburg means that $138.5 million, although less than the original request, is not a small amount of money.
The fact that most of these new dollars are locally driven and not provided by the state lays out the cornerstone of the larger problem.
The silver lining in this cloudy and messy response is that $120 million of the one percent sales tax extension will go to Philadelphia schools, beginning on 7/1/14. If fully enacted, it would mean the largest increase in local funding for public education in Philadelphia history. Those are new dollars that the PSD desperately needs and every year our schools will be able to rely on that funding, forever. This unprecedented new local commitment to our schools, our children, our families, and to the future of our city is something Philadelphians should be proud of.
However, before anyone starts doing victory laps and campaign commercials are written using words like savior and hero, this fact must be underscored: In three PA budgets, the Governor has walked away from new recurring state dollars for Philadelphia and other low-income school districts with over $1 billion in reductions in state funding. The sales tax option would never have been necessary if the Governor had prioritized basic education funding as opposed over $1 billion in tax giveaways to PA’s wealthiest corporations.
PA’s distressed school districts are in many ways similar to the Philadelphia School District. They reside in communities that are struggling and their local tax base is nearly depleted because of the effects of the Great Recession. Their circumstance is exacerbated because as with the education funding problem, there is limited help coming from the Governor to support the revitalization of these communities. They cannot fund their schools on their own. The Governor has a financial, legal, and moral responsibility to stand up for them, but the lifeline of support has been almost non-existent. The Governor and the state he is responsible for can no longer ignore the plight of the children in Philadelphia and other distressed communities.
We must have a statewide response to the school funding crisis. Our children require us to live up to the PA Constitution's directive to provide a "thorough and efficient" education to all students. The silver linings for these districts, like the one that was used for the Philadelphia School District, are running out. Our only real solution is to build the political will to enact a statewide, fully funded and appropriate funding formula that invests in PA's children to the level that they deserve. If we ask them to do their best, surely we must do our best.
ONE PERCENT SALES TAX: THE SILVER LINING
Although the state has failed to provide adequate funding for public education, Philadelphians should be proud that 1 percent of our local sales tax will go to our schools. If fully enacted, the one percent solution will generated $120 million annually for the Philadelphia School District. This represents the single largest increase in local support for public schools in Philadelphia history. This is the silver lining in the school funding crisis.
Education Funding History
The chart below shows the historical funding levels when compared to previous budgets. Despite claims to the contrary, the Governor cut nearly $1 billion from public education in his first two years in office.
The state provided more than $5.8 billion in funding for public education in 2008-2009. That number dropped to $5.5 billion in 2013-14 under the current Governor.
Learn more about the issues and provide your feedback on my website at senatorhughes.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@SenatorHughes).
Offices of State
Senator Vincent Hughes