As Gov. Tom Corbett prepared to sign Pennsylvania’s latest austerity budget Sunday night, he proposed his very own, $140 million “rescue package” for Philly public schools. Unfortunately the state, which has a constitutional obligation to fund public schools, is simply passing the check to those who can least afford to pay.
Corbett’s plan, which is worth only $127 million when already-budgeted spending is taken into account, falls far short of plugging the schools’ $304 million budget gap, and is $53 million short of the School Reform Commission’s combined request from city and state governments.
It’s also a shell game, so watch closely. Much of the funding comes from optimistic projections of increased collections from city tax delinquents and from an extension of the city’s “temporary” 1-percent sales-tax hike. The latter is simply the state giving the city the power to further tax its own heavily low-income population. This is patently regressive taxation, meaning that it takes disproportionately from the poor — in a city that already has a regressive wage tax, and in a state that has one of the most regressive tax structures in the nation. The diversion of the sales tax also robs Philadelphia of the opportunity to use that money for other pressing needs, such as pension shortfalls.
There is only $47 million in new state funding for city schools beyond what Corbett proposed previously. Critically, $45 million of that is a one-time-only expenditure — and it actually comes not from Corbett, but from the Obama administration.
The plan also requires a staggering $133 million in concessions from union workers, mostly from teach-ers who already make 19 percent less than their suburban counterparts. Worse yet, the sales-tax extension and the state money will only be released if the secretary of education determines that the school district has implemented “reforms that will provide for the district’s fiscal stability, education improvement and operational control.” This is a nod to the folks who want to break Philadelphia’s teachers’ union.
The budget Corbett signed continues hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to public schools, universities, environmental protection and programs that care for the poor, homeless, recovering addicts and victims of domestic violence.
There is, once again, more money for prisons.
Meanwhile, the old fair-funding formula targeting dollars to the most needy students instituted by Gov. Ed Rendell remains in the dustbin. The brave new formula requires Philadelphians and teachers to pay more than we can afford, while wealthy businesses and nonprofits contribute next to nothing.
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