Northeast Times

Editorial: Made up math

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The state budget ap­proved by the Gen­er­al As­sembly and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett on Sunday night should get an “F” for fail­ing to provide a life­line to the Phil­adelphia pub­lic school dis­trict for next school year.

And it should get an “in­com­plete” for fail­ing to fix a sys­tem of edu­ca­tion fund­ing that re­lies on who is in the gov­ernor’s chair rather than em­ploy­ing a pre­dict­able for­mula that takes in­to ac­count a dis­trict’s poverty rate, tax base, needs and en­roll­ment.

What’s wrong with Pennsylvania’s new $28.4 bil­lion budget? Plenty.

For starters, the $15 mil­lion in in­creased funds for ba­sic edu­ca­tion that was al­loc­ated to Phil­adelphia schools really boils down to an ex­tra $2 mil­lion be­cause the oth­er $13 mil­lion was already ac­coun­ted for in the school dis­trict’s bread-and-wa­ter budget for next year.

As for the gov­ernor’s sup­port of ex­tend­ing the city’s 1 per­cent city sales tax bey­ond its 2014 ex­pir­a­tion date, that comes with prob­lems, too. The school dis­trict would be al­lowed to bor­row $50 mil­lion in an­ti­cip­a­tion of fu­ture sales tax re­ceipts. But more bor­row­ing means more debt ser­vice, and 10 per­cent of the dis­trict’s op­er­at­ing budget already is al­loc­ated to debt ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to the Note­book and News­Works. Does it make sense for the school dis­trict to go even deep­er in­to debt?

Then there is the $45 mil­lion one-time pay­ment the dis­trict would get from the for­give­ness of pen­al­ties and in­terest the state owes the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices for over­pay­ments. This money would come with strings at­tached. The state edu­ca­tion de­part­ment would con­duct a re­view to de­cide if the Philly school dis­trict had achieved changes that provide “fisc­al sta­bil­ity, edu­ca­tion im­prove­ment and op­er­a­tion­al con­trol.” We see that as tak­ing aim at the Phil­adelphia Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers — for ma­jor give­backs on wages, seni­or­ity rules and health-care con­tri­bu­tions.

And if all that wer­en’t bad enough, the Gen­er­al

As­sembly re­jec­ted Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil’s bid to col­lect a $2-a-pack ci­gar­ette tax, too. That tax, along with more ag­gress­ive prop­erty tax col­lec­tions, was ex­pec­ted to bring the city an ex­tra $74 mil­lion to be used to­ward city schools. But without the ci­gar­ette tax, the num­ber falls to only $30 mil­lion, far short of the $60 mil­lion the dis­trict needs from the city in new funds. What the Philly school dis­trict got from the state in new rev­en­ues to help fill a $304 mil­lion short­fall doesn’t add up to the $120 mil­lion it needed, and that’s why the budget de­serves a fail­ing grade. •• 

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