June 22--After a tortuous year of unseemly power plays, City Council finally made an eleventh-hour promise last week to give Philadelphia's beleaguered public schools an additional $30 million in bond funds to be retired quickly by an increase in the local sales tax.
Now it's the duty of the state legislature and Gov. Corbett to help this city's children, who this past year have gone without books, supplies, counselors, teachers, nurses, aides, and adequate security.
This city's public education system is neither thorough nor efficient, as required by the state constitution, because the state has not met its responsibility to adequately fund Pennsylvania's schools.
Mayor Nutter and Council have found ways to pump more funds into the school budget without cutting allocations to other city services. The district still has an estimated $66 million deficit, but the budget gap could be filled with additional state funds and revenue from a proposed Philadelphia-only, $2-a-pack cigarette tax.
Unfortunately, the state is anticipating its own $1.5 billion revenue gap, which will make it hard to find more funds for schools. That makes it even more important for the cigarette tax to be approved, and for School District employees, who have been asked for salary and benefits concessions, to understand that the possibility of more layoffs is no idle threat.
It's hard to envision what type of education the schools would provide if that happens. Public schools advocate Helen Gym says more budget cuts would amount to conducting "a sickening social experiment on children to see how much they can take." That should not be allowed to happen.
Everything is in play in Harrisburg, as the Republican governor and GOP-controlled legislature try to pass the state budget before the July 1 deadline. Amid the deal-making, the Philadelphia delegation will likely be pressured to give up their resistance to privatizing state liquor stores. That would be the right move even if it weren't to help schoolchildren.
Democrats, however, should resist going along with Corbett's misguided pension relief plan, which would likely only make its funding shortfall worse. It's good to see a shale-gas tax back on the table. That revenue could help balance the state budget and provide more funding for schools. This is a seminal moment for policymakers. Children have suffered enough.
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