Those involved with the Philadelphia schools are slowly coming to grips with the monstrous scale of the latest budget crisis. Closing a gap of a half billion dollars is going to require chopping about 15 percent of the total budget, most of which is spent at the school level.
District officials, whose warnings were initially muted, are just starting to acknowledge the harsh reality: school programs and staff will be decimated.
Yes, there are more than a few exorbitant salaries, unnecessary contracts, and ineffective programs that should be the first targets. The District should be scrutinized on its efforts to eliminate its questionable spending. And schools should be given maximum flexibility to manage their own budgets.
But a fiscal disaster on this scale can't be blamed on waste. It is largely due to Gov. Tom Corbett, who offered an 11 percent increase for prisons but slashed $1.19 billion from preK-12 education spending (and deeper cuts for higher ed). The neediest school systems are unfairly targeted for the brunt of the cuts, one-quarter of which come from Philadelphia alone.
Never mind that school systems across the state have shown significant gains with the increased funding provided by the Rendell administration. Citing reduced federal funding, Corbett repeats the prevailing wisdom that we have no choice but to spend less because there is no money to spend.
But as Michael Moore pointed out in a recent speech, "America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash." We have a growing, $15 trillion dollar economy, with ever more of it in the hands of the wealthiest Americans.
The New York Times reported in March that General Electric, despite $14.2 billion in 2010 profits, paid a relative pittance in U.S. taxes – one reason the corporate share of federal tax receipts has plummeted since the 1950s. Pennsylvania's tax system is full of such one-of-a-kind corporate loopholes that politicians have refused to close.
We urge our readers to seize every opportunity to tell elected officials that they must act to secure funding for education and not balance the budget on the backs of children.