The Pennsylvania Senate this afternoon approved, 39-11, a long-debated $2-per-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia to help close the School District's budget gap. Gov. Corbett promptly announced that he would sign the bill. Signing will take place at 11:30 Wednesday morning. (Read the legislation.)
Superintendent William Hite said in a tweet that between the cigarette tax and the earlier approval of a 1 percent sales tax surcharge for schools, the District will net more than $170 million "in recurring and predictable revenue instead of one-time funding."
If it is implemented in October, the cigarette tax is expected to generate $49 million this year for the schools and as much as $80 million annually in future years. The sales tax surcharge provides the District a fixed amount of $120 million annually. The cigarette tax provision expires in 2019, however. Both taxes are on Philadelphia residents only, but they required state approval.
Dale Mezzacappaon Sep 2, 2014 11:32 AM
Beginning high school is daunting enough for most young people. But this year, students in Philadelphia face worries that most of their counterparts in more reliably funded districts don’t have.
Will their schedules be disrupted if more layoffs become necessary and some teachers disappear? Will counselors be available to make sure they are taking the courses they need? Will their high school even offer all the courses they want – in some cases, courses that attracted them to that school in the first place?
It's all been written before. The Philadelphia School District was in brutal financial shape last year.
Guidance counselors and nurses nonexistent in schools on many days.
Cash available only for the barest of supplies and supports.
Still, "it needs to be discussed over and over and over again," said Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent Hughes at a Thursday news conference. "This is not how you achieve a 21st-century education."
Flanked by four members of the School Reform Commission, Superintendent William Hite announced Friday morning that Philadelphia schools would open on time Sept. 8, but that another round of "difficult and hopefully temporary" cuts would be made to narrow the District's $81 million deficit.
Here are five key points about the School District's latest plan for dealing with its budget gap.
1. Temporary cuts and budget adjustments totaling $32 million were announced. These include discontinuing TransPasses for 7,500 high school students who live less than two miles from school, eliminating 300 slots in alternative programs for students at risk of dropping out, making 27 more elementary schools share police officers, reducing school cleaning and repairs, cutting extra professional development time at the District's Promise Academies, and eliminating some administrative positions. "These are cuts we want to treat as temporary," Hite said. "We want to restore them."
Note: This is adapted from a brief that was published Aug. 8 by the Philadelphia-based group Research for Action. The full brief can be found here.
Philadelphia’s school funding situation is a central issue in state policy discussions. The recent debate has focused on city’s authority to raise taxes on cigarettes. But the essential questions on whether the school system has enough money have been present in the state capitol for at least two decades.
The Commonwealth Foundation released a brief on Philadelphia school trends recently that received prominent attention in the local press. It argued that despite a funding increase, the District has little academic improvement to show for it.
Decision day looms on the horizon.
In one week, the Philadelphia School District will announce its plans to deal with its $81 million budget gap.
Without additional funding, Superintendent William Hite says he will be forced to choose between two bad options: either lay off 1,300 staffers, mostly teachers, or save money by shortening the school year.
This could happen by opening schools late or closing early.
Gov. Corbett is authorizing a $265 million advance to the Philadelphia School District.
This is an early disbursement of money that the district was already scheduled to receive, and thus does not erase the district's $81 million budget gap.
Pennsylvania House Republicans have canceled a planned session on Monday to vote on a $2-a-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia, jeopardizing the next school year for tens of thousands of students.
"Here we are again," said a frustrated Superintendent William Hite at a hastily called news conference Thursday afternoon.
Schools are now only weeks away from their scheduled opening day, but without assurances that the District will have enough funds to operate a functional system, much less one that offers an acceptable education.
Updated | 3:25 p.m.
The School District announced 342 layoffs Thursday, most of them noontime aides and special-education classroom assistants.
But the total also includes eight assistant principals, three conflict-resolution specialists, and 15 assistants in Head Start classrooms.
District spokeswoman Raven Hill said that these layoffs were mostly the result of budget decisions made by principals and are not related to the 1,300 layoffs that may be necessary if the legislature fails to give final approval to a cigarette tax to raise funds for the District.
After winning a major victory in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, the proposed cigarette tax for Philly schools appears stalled in a game of legislative pingpong.
On Tuesday, the Senate sent the bill back to the House by adding amendments, and now the House isn't scheduled to reconsider the measure until Aug. 4.
School leaders say that leaves plans for opening schools in September in total disarray.