Teachers, parents and students took their cause to Harrisburg on Tuesday, to try to talk sense to state lawmakers and rally support for increased funding of public schools across Pennsylvania.
The only question is: Was anyone listening?
We hope so, because the fiscal crisis facing Philly public schools is real, and the state is facing a Sunday deadline to pony up new revenue to avoid drastic cuts that would gut our city’s schools.
Philadelphia City Council has already done its part — passing a $2-a-pack cigarette tax and pushing for more aggressive property tax collections. If Harrisburg allows the cigarette tax, Philadelphia is expected to collect about $74.5 million more for city schools. That’s even more than the $60 million the school district requested from the city to help close a $304 million shortfall in the district’s budget for next school year.
Now, it’s the state’s turn to step up and fulfill its responsibility to the students of this state.
The Philly school district has asked the state for an extra $120 million, but with the clock ticking, Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-controlled legislature have failed to put forth any concrete plans for extra funding.
We would remind the governor that this fiscal crisis in Philadelphia public schools stems largely from the loss of $1 billion in state and federal funding for education that took effect soon after Corbett took office. Philly schools bore the brunt of those reductions.
We would also remind him that a new poll, released on Monday, shows very clearly that Pennsylvania voters are deeply concerned about the crisis in public schools across the state. A majority is even willing to pay higher taxes to ease the crisis. And 55 percent said the governor and state lawmakers should take action that would prevent staffers from being laid off, bigger class sizes and curriculum cuts.
Already, the state’s share of education spending is among the lowest in the nation. The state vs. local share of education spending is only 32 percent, compared to a national average of 48 percent.
What is really needed is a long-term fix to the problem. But that will only happen when the state adopts an education funding formula that takes into account poverty rates and other key aspects of districts.
We urge the Harrisburg lawmakers to find the extra money to help avert drastic cuts to Philadelphia and other distressed districts. It’s the right thing to do, and it needs to happen now. ••