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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. ••