Corbett Unveils Preliminary Philadelphia Schools Rescue Plan

The plan that could rescue Philadelphia schools is far from being finalized, but a preliminary version has now been unveiled by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. This weekend, Corbett announced the proposal that could provide as much as $140 million in additional funding to the struggling city school system.

The plan, however, depends on a lot of "ifs." Corbett will need to win the support not only of recalcitrant legislators but also even-more-recalcitrant teachers unions. Approval of the proposal rests of the city being able to exact more than $130 million in labor concessions from the teachers and other district employees.

The money for the city would come from a number of different places, including $30 million from the collection of certain back taxes that will be made possible by a tougher collection system.

Nearly $16 million will come directly from the state as part of the basic education funding allocated via the annual budget. The state will also throw in an additional $45 million one-time payment.

Originally the money was owed to the federal government as interest and penalties on an old debt, but the Feds have now struck an agreement with Pennsylvania lawmakers to forgive it. The funding will go to rescue Philadelphia schools instead.

Extending Philadelphia's extra 1-percent sales tax, which was set to expire next June. The extension would allow the city to borrow $50 million against future collections of that tax. Starting next July, the extended tax would also generate $120 million annually for the School District. The plan also counts on Hite's getting the $133 million in savings he seeks in concessions from unions, primarily the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).

The package also would hinge on the district's implementing reforms that would lead to what Corbett called "fiscal stability, educational improvement, and operational controls." He, too, is pushing for concessions from the unions – a push that plays well with his fellow Republicans in the legislature.

Even if Superintendent William Hite, Jr. is to receive all the money promised, it would still put him about $30 million short of the amount needed to keep the city from adopting its so-called "doomsday" budget.

At one time, the city hoped that the gap could be filled with money raised from a proposed cigarette tax which would have added $2 to the cost of each pack sold in Philadelphia. Those supporting the tax estimated that they could collect as much as $45 million if it was adopted. However, state lawmakers have refused to give permission for the tax to be applied, so the city will now have to find other ways of raising the money.

Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Diane Ravitch, a national education expert, have appealed to U.S. Education Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to help Philadelphia schools. In a letter scheduled to be made public Monday, Weingarten and Ravitch wrote to the nation's top education official: "We are writing to ask for your urgent intervention to preserve public education for the children of Philadelphia."

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