In Philadelphia, parents aren’t just worried about cuts to the Philadelphia School District’s budget — they’re taking action. With these ‘severe’ budget cuts, parents and advocates argue that the state would not be able to meet its legal obligation to provide an adequate education.
Hundreds of parents, students and teachers have filed formal complaints with Pennsylvania’s Education Department over Philadelphia’s long-standing troubles with balancing budgets and school services. So far, about 260 complaints have been filed, and an additional 100 complaints are expected to be filed by the end of the week, according to Holly Otterbein of News Works.
According to parent groups, the cuts in budget demonstrate a failure to provide the constitutionally mandated “thorough and efficient” education, Mike DeNardo writes of CBS Philly.
In addition, education advocates have launched a new website, myphillyschools.com, where parents can make formal complaints to the state education department.
Parents and advocates are also complaining of overcrowded classrooms, the absence of arts programs, and too few guidance counselors. “Due to a budget crisis that many call unprecedented, the school district opened its doors this year with 3,000 fewer employees and major cutbacks in programs.”
Advocates requested the release of a $45 million grant that has been set aside for the school district pending financial and academic “reforms,” including concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The state should provide more money to Philadelphia’s schools, said Councilman Bill Green, who also endorsed the advocates’ new website.
“Across the country, state funding constitutes, on average, 43.5 percent of school districts’ funding. In Pennsylvania, however, our commonwealth contributes 35.8 percent,” Green said. “Only nine other states in the country provide a lower funding percentage than the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. What’s happening to our students is flat-out wrong.”
According to Pennsylvania’s education department spokesman Tim Eller, despite a barebones budget, the state is committed to providing the services mandated by state and federal laws. He noted that the department will review all complaints it receives.
The first long-term solution to the district’s fiscal challenges is “an agreement with the PFT that achieves the savings and reforms identified by the School Reform Commission will allow more resources to be directed toward the students and schools,” Eller said, adding that second solution is the City Council’s plans to extend and redirect the 1% sales tax to the district.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly authorized the extension of a 1 percent local sales tax that was due to expire, which would raise up to $120 million for the district in future years. Instead, City Council President Darrell Clarke wants to evenly split the sales tax proceeds between the schools and the city’s woefully underfunded pension system. To make up the difference, he is pushing for the state to provide more funding and authorize a local cigarette tax.
In addition, a City Council committee recently approved a proposal to raise $50 million for the city’s schools by purchasing vacant properties from the school district. Mayor Michael Nutter prefers to raise that money by borrowing $50 million against future sales tax proceeds.
Either way, the school district has already booked the $50 million and restored some laid-off employees with the money.