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Nutter, coalition plead with Harrisburg for $120 million for city schools

By by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Apr 17, 2013 07:50 AM
Photo: Kait Privitera/City of Philadelphia

Saying it’s time for Gov. Corbett to relieve the pain caused by massive cuts in state aid to public education over the last two years, Mayor Nutter and a coalition of District, charter and Catholic schools are making a push in support of the School Reform Commission’s request for $120 million in additional state aid for city schools.

“What’s happening at the school level doesn’t lie,” said Lori Shorr, the mayor’s chief education officer. “Talk to parents in a charter school or a District-managed school. They understand what the cuts have meant.”

Nutter, along with the Great Schools Compact, is calling on Corbett and the state legislature to increase the state’s basic education subsidy, restore state reimbursements to districts for money they spend on charter schools and adopt a “student-based funding formula” as a long-term solution to the District’s chronic budget woes.  

Nutter was in Harrisburg on Tuesday pressing that case with state legislators, his spokesman Mark McDonald said.

“The School District’s budget is in a structural crisis,” McDonald said. “The state has a critical role to play, and so does the city.”

A spokesman for Senate Republicans responded coolly to the request.

“It’s a big ask in a very difficult budget year,” Erik Arneson said.

Last month, the School Reform Commission adopted a preliminary budget statement with a shortfall of at least $242 million. The plan to make ends meet counts on $120 million from the state and $60 million from the city, as well as deep concessions from teachers.  

The massive budget hole continues a two-year budget crisis brought about by sharp drops in state and federal aid since Corbett took office, as well as poor financial planning by the District.

McDonald said Nutter remains committed to coming up with the city’s portion of the SRC’s request, although details are still nonexistent.

To support the campaign for more state aid, the Mayor’s Office of Education has hired a temporary project manager to help coordinate and support the variety of organizing efforts underway in Philadelphia to push for more state funds.  

Part of that work is occurring through the Great Schools Compact, which includes leaders from the District, charters, and the archdiocese.

“We’re all on the same page,” said Shorr, the group’s chairperson. “I think people have really started to understand that their fates are tied and that joint advocacy is a better solution.”

The funding proposal

Shorr said the Great Schools Compact is specifically recommending that Corbett and legislators in Harrisburg consider providing the $120 million requested by the SRC via:

  • Increasing the state’s subsidy for public education, paid to every traditional school district in the state.  
  • Restoring some version of the “charter reimbursement” line item, which previously provided tens of millions of dollars to districts annually to help offset the cost of charter schools. The charter reimbursement was eliminated by Corbett prior to the 2011-12 school year.
  • Forming a bipartisan commission to develop and implement a “weighted student funding formula” that is based on district’s actual enrollments and accounts for the specific needs of individual students.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education, also a member of the Compact, recused itself from the Compact’s deliberations in supporting the SRC’s request.

A PDE spokesman did not return calls for comment.

Corbett’s most recent budget proposal calls for $90 million in new basic education funding statewide, $15 million of which would go to Philadelphia.  

Senate Republican spokesman Arneson described that figure as “a floor” that could end up higher if the state takes in more money than anticipated over the next two months.  

But convincing the state to come up with a huge sum of money for Philadelphia schools alone will be a tough sell, he said.

“It’s very challenging to see a scenario in which $120 million in additional funds can be found for any purpose other than what’s already been outlined in the governor’s budget,” Arneson said.  

It’s unclear what would happen to the District’s budget if the state doesn’t meet the SRC’s request. Officials are already counting on $133 million in concessions from teachers in order to balance the District’s books next year, and Superintendent William Hite has said that further cuts to schools are not a viable option. The SRC has also emphasized that it will not be able to take on new debt after borrowing $300 million this year just to pay the District’s bills.  

The stakes for bringing more money into Philadelphia’s public schools couldn’t be higher, Shorr said.

“If we can’t figure out how to balance our budget, I’m not quite sure how public education works next year in this city,” she said.  

Restoring a version of the charter reimbursement could provide significant support for Philadelphia, which enrolls about 62,000 charter school students -- roughly half of all the charter students in the state.

Started in 2002-03, the charter reimbursement called on the state to give districts up to 30 percent of the total value it spent on charters in the previous year. In 2010-11, the last year the charter reimbursement was in place, the Philadelphia District received $110 million.  

The Compact also is calling on Nutter and City Council to come up with the $60 million in city funds requested by the SRC, but no details about how that might happen have yet been laid out.

“We’re at a stage where the mayor has identified an important goal for the city,” McDonald said. “We have until the end of May to come up with ways of getting as close to that goal as possible.”

A 'higher road'

Shorr said the Mayor’s Office of Education has hired Ceci Schickel to help cultivate the “many efforts by grassroots organizations and others” to push for more state funding.

As a city employee, Schickel will be paid $2,000 per week until the end of June for her work.

Shorr also praised the District and its 80-plus charter schools -- historic adversaries -- for taking a “higher road” and making a unified request for more state aid.

“When you don’t have them working together, you’re just not as strong in Harrisburg,” Shorr said. “Now we do have them working together, and I think that’s going to make a difference.”

In Pennsylvania, because of the way the state funding system works, charters feel the effects of budget cuts one year later than traditional districts. Any restoration of funds to traditional districts would likewise take a year to make its way to charters.

Lawrence Jones, the president of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools, said charters’ hopes are straightforward: “We want to see increased funding for public education across the board.”

Jones also praised the Great Schools Compact for bringing charters and the School District together, saying, “You can have competition without having conflict."

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Notebook.

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Comments (12)

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 17, 2013 9:34 am
Hey, the charter con jobs want more money and they'll get it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 17, 2013 9:47 am
But who is really speaking on behalf of traditional public education? We all know the districts wants charters. This isnt about funding public schools this is about making sure charters continue to get tax payers dollars
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 17, 2013 10:10 am
May I just take this opportunity to say that I have known Lawrence Jones for many years now and I find him to be a very "good guy" who fully understands his responsibility to operate charter schools for their intended purposes. He is one of the original charter school founders who was previously a teacher in Philadelphia who was fed up with the large class sizes and his inability as a teacher to meet the needs of his students under the district constraints. I have nothing but the highest respect for him. He was one of the many true educators who went into the charter school arena for the right reasons. He also understands his responsibility to lead charter schools as transparent schools accountable to the public. As a small charter school leader, his school, and many similarly situated, also have budgetary struggles.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on April 17, 2013 12:24 pm
Rich, What percentage of charter students are served in the "small traditional charters" like the one which Lawrence Jones founded? Our readers need to know the traditional charters that you like- are nothing like the huge corporate type charters that are taking over the district. You have made that point in the past, but this point cannot be overstated. It is crucial to the discussion of "public education" which by definition is supported by taxpayers. It is true that there needs to be a coalition of groups to lobby for education funding. What really rankles me is the repetitive suggestion that "the great schools compact" likes to encourage. That is, that the difference between public and private is insignificant, that the difference between public and religious schools doesn't really matter. Once we decide as citizens to simply not attend to these details, we agree to throw a great deal of hard earned rights down the tube. The corporate elites seem to have a bottomless pit of advertising funds and glossy publications to forward their agenda. The rest of us need to keep driving our point home until the collective voice insists on the democratic values most of us hold dear. It is a respect for our democracy that should be the unifying factor for traditional,public, and parochial folks. I see the "great school compact" folks systemically sidestepping democracy. And that is a huge problem. If Lawrence Jones is the person you describe Rich, he has his work cut out for him.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 17, 2013 1:24 pm
Eileen, I absolutely agree with you. I am right at this very moment working on my article explaining the significance of those differences and what they mean to all stakeholders as to their rights in schools. I do not know the number of students served by traditional charter schools and the number of students served by schools run by charter operators, but I would sure like to know that answer, too. For those purposes, I would define charter operator as any organization which runs more than one charter school. One is a "corporate model" and the other was intended to be a "community school" model. These are issues we all should understand as they do go the heart of what public education is.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on April 17, 2013 11:40 am
If the State and City can't provide the needed $$, I would think the SRC has sufficient grounds to deny the expansion requests of the charters, and greater grounds to deny the renewal of the charters that are not performing better than District schools. Perhaps this can be added to the request to the State as a consequence of denial of it. It is good that the charters are helping with the lobbying. Not sure how the parochial schools are benefiting. How is funding of the OSTCP going this year? A coalition that would make more sense is one with other districts in the State pushing for the reinstatement of use of the Costing-out study of 2007. Surely Ms. Sheckel can add that to her responsibilities for $2000/week?
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 17, 2013 2:57 pm
Wishes, hopes, could, should, may, might, perhaps-----------mean nothing, NOTHING.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 17, 2013 3:49 pm
What Great Schools Compact? The one you google and it goes directly to the Philadelphia School Partnership website? This is all very sickening for so many reasons. The most obvious one is the empty promises that Hite made at the community meetings to go to Harrisburg. Wasn't that the time to go? Before all those schools were closed? This highlights again the fact that closing schools was never a money issue, it is a political and ideological issue. And who is Ceci Sheckel? This garbage about public schools and charter schools now being one big happy family working together for the same thing is offensive. I don't have to explain to Notebook readers why. Lori Schorr, as an appointee of an elected official, has a responsibility to the public to open the GSC and PSP meetings to all who are affected by their decisions. She has been asked to do that verbally and in writing and has chosen not to respond. We don't need to be lectured to by anyone who continually shuts out the students, parents and teachers in this city. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 17, 2013 7:56 pm
Lisa---Exactly Right. Folks are going to have get mad as hell and ACT on that anger before this blatant disrespect stops.
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on April 17, 2013 10:17 pm
Yeah Lisa,I thinking the same ??? To all of the questions !!! There are many questions to be answered here before I would even think of asking Harrisburg... SDP/SRC is out of order...Check out Rep. James Roebuck's report on charter school HB 934..
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on April 18, 2013 1:40 pm
Nobody who can connect the dots thinks this is on the up and up. It's just politically accepted now because money talks and big money talks loudest. By the way, Obama fully understands this too and is actively throwing "his" kids under the bus. He talks a good game but so far in 5 years, has done nothing to help the people who were so proud to elect him. What a con artist !!
Submitted by Kelly Jenkins (not verified) on April 18, 2013 2:17 am
Interesting how this woman in the mayor's office said “Talk to parents in a charter school or a District-managed school. They understand what the cuts have meant.” She put charters before district-managed schools. We know where the mayor's priorities are.

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