Photo via Ron Tarver | Philly.com
After months of turmoil and uncertainty, Philadelphia's resource-starved schools finally caught a break: a new, stable source of funding. The Pennsylvania state senate (which has to approve local taxes in the city) authorized a $2-per-pack cigarette tax that will raise $170 million for the city's schools each year.
That said, the $170 million doesn't go very far in a city that has been chronically underfunded. In recent years, schools and students have gone without basic resources like text-books, paper and counselors. Two Philadelphia students died last year after falling ill at schools that, due to budget cuts, didn't have a school nurse on duty.
"The good news is that, assuming the Governor signs it quickly, the District will be able to avert laying off a thousand school employees, cuts that would have driven class size over forty and rendered the schools, in the words of [Superintendent] Dr. Hite, 'empty shells.'
The bad news is that this new revenue is woefully inadequate and does not even ensure last year’s 'bare bones' levels. Mayor Nutter’s characterization of the vote as 'a fantastic victory' will be a head scratcher for students, parents and school workers who know what things are really like in our schools."
The funding crisis in Philadelphia and other districts has sparked a statewide movement demanding fair school funding. PA is currently one of only three states in the country that doesn't have a formula for distributing state aid to the low-income districts that need it most.
Local organizers are also trying to take back full control of the city's schools from the district's state-appointed school board, the School Reform Commission (SCR). A campaign to put the issue on the November ballot garnered over 40,000 signatures and the City Council approved a nonbinding referendum.
Stay tuned for more updates from Philadelphia! And read more about the cigarette tax here.