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Pa. budget secretary to Philly schools: Hey, we've got money problems, too

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    Photo: Kevin McCorry/WHYY

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By refusing to adopt a budget that would gut schools to the point of "empty shells," the School Reform Commission clearly intended Thursday evening to send an urgent message to the people in City Hall and Harrisburg who provide its funding.

One of those is Charles Zogby, the state's budget secretary. In a local appearance Friday, Zogby acknowledged the District's dire financial straits, but said the District's woes are but one of many issues that the governor has to weigh this budget season.

Gov. Corbett and the state legislature have to approve a budget before the end of June. In the meantime, Zogby said that "there's a lot of fluidity" and that "all options are on the table." He said that finding more money for schools is going to be extremely difficult given the state's own budget gap, which hovers between $1.3 and $1.5 billion.

The state's revenue collections have fallen well short of expectations.

"Everybody's strapped for cash, including our families that continue to struggle," said Zogby. "So the governor has to take that into account as well as he goes about his decision making."

Three of the SRC's five members were appointed by Gov. Corbett: Chairman Bill Green, Feather O. Houstoun, and Farah Jimenez.

"When they call, we listen," said Zogby. "There's an ongoing dialogue. They're very good advocates for the District, and sharing with us the challenges they face."

Education advocates have called for a number of revenue-generating options, including a statewide severance tax on Marcellus shale drilling, accepting federal help to expand Medicaid, and raising taxes on state businesses.

Philadelphia City Council voted last year to levy a tax on tobacco sold within the city, but before it can be implemented it needs the blessing of the tax-averse, Republican-controlled state legislature. So far, education advocates in Philadelphia have waited in vain for that blessing.

Of a possible tax to raise additional school funding, Zogby said:

"Revenues have not been part of the discussion heretofore, but again, I said earlier in the year that all options are on the table."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Kevin McCorry

Kevin is WHYY/NewsWorks' senior education writer.