The legal battle over whether Philadelphia's School Reform Commission has the power to unilaterally impose new work rules on the District's teachers is getting more intense with the filing of new arguments urging quick action by the Supreme Court.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) maintains that "the collective bargaining agreement ... has proven a particularly high barrier to the District effecting reforms essential to providing services in a fiscally responsible and manageable manner."
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a $2.8 billion “lump sum” budget for fiscal 2015 that counts on receiving $440 million more in revenue than it currently has secured.
It did so shortly after an unprecedented scene in City Hall, when a few dozen school principals clogged the corridors to dramatize the appalling conditions in their schools and ask Council members for more funds.
And State Sen. Vincent Hughes addressed the SRC directly after holding a rally on the District’s steps in which he called for taxing Marcellus Shale extraction – Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state in the country that doesn’t do so – to raise money for education.
Though Governor Corbett has announced that he will release the $45 million that the state had appropriated to the District but had been withholding until reforms were made, education advocates continue to debate the issue of fair funding for Philadelphia schools.
This morning on Radio Times, Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and Charles Zogby, secretary of the Budget for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, debated the issue of funding for public education in Pennsylvania.
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
The Pennsylvania House passed a bill Monday that directs $45 million in additional state aid to Philadelphia's cash-starved schools, but only under certain conditions.
One of those conditions is that the money actually materializes.
The state has apparently persuaded federal officials to forgive a years-old debt, freeing up millions of dollars for public education.
However, Gov. Corbett's office said that negotiations between the state and feds over the debt have not been finalized. Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni declined to provide more details.
by Dale Mezzacappa for the Notebook and Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
When Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature added a bit more than $30 million in education aid to Gov. Corbett's proposed budget in its final negotiations last month, legislators decided to target $14.5 million of that money to districts with high numbers of English language learners and $4 million to districts with high concentrations of students in charter schools.
But they managed to devise the formulas for these supplements in such a way that Philadelphia's school district, which has nearly half the charter students in the state and one-quarter of the English language learners, got none of these funds. This in a year when it was desperately begging the governor and legislature for additional state aid just to remain solvent.
In fact, the money for districts impacted by charters and ELL students went to only six districts around the state -- most of it, perhaps not coincidentally, in the areas represented by powerful legislators.
by Bill Hangley Jr.
Day two of City Council’s education hearings was a long string of bleak predictions and passionate calls for funding from public school supporters faced with the prospect of what one parent called “trying to do the impossible with nothing.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell called the day’s testimony “disheartening,” but gave little indication that she and her colleagues are eager to move on meeting the Philadelphia School District’s request for $60 million in additional funding.
by Bill Hangley Jr.
District officials met with City Council today to warn that unless Council, the state legislature, and the teachers' union pitch in, next year’s “dire” budget will transform schools into bare-bones operations stripped of all but the most basic staff and programming.
But City Council President Darrell Clarke said, dire or not, there’s a long way to go before Council can find the $60 million that District officials are requesting as the city’s share to plug an unprecedented $300 million structural deficit.
“To suggest that there’s going to be any additional taxes … I think is a stretch at this time,” Clarke said. “I can personally say that without a significant increase in funding from the state, I don’t think there’s going to be any appetite at the local level to do anything.”
The School District is in bleak fiscal straits. Staring at the possibility of a deficit of $242 million by the end of 2013-14, District leaders are looking to the city and state to contribute $180 million in aid while also looking to reduce labor costs by 10 percent.
As City Council prepares for school budget hearings next week, the Notebook asked prominent folks in Philadelphia education to offer their take on what else could be done to address the gap. What solutions to the District's budget crisis are there, beyond the plea to the city and state for more funding and the plan to cut employee salaries and benefits? We received the following four responses. Comments are welcome.
Philadelphia School District officials say that closing buildings will save them millions of dollars a year.
But a closer look at the numbers shows that the lion’s share of savings will come from eliminating jobs.
Officials have been adamant that their Facilities Master Plan, which would close 37 schools and relocate seven more, is a financial necessity that will ultimately save the District $28 million annually – but less in the first year.
Even before making the annual February budget proposal to the legislature for 2013-14, Gov. Tom Corbett said that this year he would not slash funding for basic education.