Yesterday City Council approved a $27 million borrowing effort and introduced an additional bill for another $30 million in borrowing for the School District for passage in September 2014. These two actions fulfill last year’s promised $50 million which was needed just to open schoolhouse doors last September. City Council earlier had approved the full $120 million in sales tax for schools, once again, money that had been promised a year ago.
The District has said that there is a $96 million gap to keep schools at status quo next year (no additional cuts but also no additional resources). City Hall has contributed $30 million toward that. This means we are still $66 million short -$66 million that only ensures no more cuts.
Though disappointing it’s important to remember that we began the budget season with uncertainty about whether the full sales tax would go toward schools and a last minute debate about delivering the promised $50 million in borrowing. Calls, visits, and outreach from parents, principals and others made all the difference in moving things forward yesterday. Kudos to all of us who made this possible!
We urge everyone to focus in on Harrisburg and our local Philadelphia delegation.
Below is Parents United’s statement on yesterday’s actions in City Council.
Parents United thanks City Council members for taking steps forward to finalize last year’s promised $50 million. There is no question that the passionate voices of Philadelphia’s citizenry mattered in advancing city funding options.
We remind our elected officials that the approval of $57 million in borrowing costs is not sustainable funding. It is a one-time stopgap that still leaves our schools almost $70 million short of this year’s dangerously inadequate budget. Parents United had urged City Council members to guarantee a full $96 million and to allow our children and families to head into summer assured that our schools would not see additional cuts. Had City Council met that challenge, any additional state funds could go toward finally restoring some of the losses our schools have experienced over the last four years. That did not happen.
Moreover, we are concerned about a delay in the second $30 million loan. It took over one year to approve last year’s promise. We do not want to see repeated delays of essential dollars to schools. We urge City Council to formally convene this summer – before the school year starts – to assess the state contribution to schools and determine what action may be required to educate children with an adequate level of resources.
Our attention now turns to Harrisburg as well as to other civic and public entities who have a responsibility to contribute toward quality funded public schools in our city. This includes the Chamber of Commerce, higher education institutions and major non-profits, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and others. We will be relentless in demanding a unified voice from the Philadelphia delegation to move on supporting the cigarette tax, charter school reimbursements and a responsible state funding formula for charter, public and cyber schools. Please keep these three issues in mind with any conversation with your state legislator.
The business community must address the unbalanced burden on Philadelphians for shouldering the weight of property taxes, sales taxes and cigarette taxes while they insist on cuts to wage and business taxes and fail to support a responsible and fair increase in the Use & Occupancy tax. Our higher education institutions and major non-profits must revive and create a robust PILOT program as part of a larger civic effort to support schools. And the Philadelphia Parking Authority sale of 45 taxicab licenses this summer – expected to net anywhere from $18-22 million – must not be hoarded solely for the PPA. This windfall must benefit Philadelphia’s children as well.
Despite the challenges of any budget effort, it’s important to understand that children and school staff are the ones who really suffer the consequences of failing to fund schools. This year our schools opened under appalling circumstances. Children across the city suffered significant physical harm from the shocking elimination of the most basic staff, programs and services. Test scores of students at the proficient and advanced level are going down. We are exacerbating unemployment through the loss of thousands of educator jobs. These are not just budget cuts. This is not about belt-tightening. The unjust funding of Philadelphia’s public schools is the moral calling of our time.
We once again thank Council for moving forward yesterday. Our work is not done, and we will be back to keep this issue front and center.
Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, June 22: “State’s turn to do more“
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21: “Council agrees to borrow $30 million to aid schools” : “Even if the district manages to fill its budget deficit, that merely maintains a status-quo environment that Gym called “appalling,” after years of painful cuts to staffing and services.
“We ask ourselves whether we’re conducting a sickening social experiment on children to see how much they can take,” she said. “These are not budget cuts anymore. They are human-rights abuses happening in this city to our children.”
MSNBC, June 20: “On brink of further collapse, Philadelphia schools rescued (again)“: “Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, said she was thankful for the Council’s efforts but that the funding falls far short of the district’s needs.
“We’re glad that we are able to move forward on last year’s promise, but it’s a one-time borrowing cost and it’s not sustainable revenue,” Gym told msnbc. “So we still have an enormous budget gap as we are wrapping up the budget season, so all of our attention has to be narrowing that massive budget gap.”