ICYMI: How the school system is falling apart
September 3, 2013, 6:45 pm · Updated September 3, 2013, 9:55 pm·
There’s been a lot of talk about Philadelphia schools lately — and not much of it has been positive. From apocalypse metaphors to threats of schools not opening on time, The Daily Pennsylvanian is here to tell you what you need to know.
What’s the problem with the school district?
Simple arithmetic. The School District needs more money than it has.
The situation is so bad that in mid-August, Superintendent William Hite predicted that without more money, schools might have to open late.
Earlier this year, the School Reform Commission — the board in charge of the city’s schools — laid out its proposed “doomsday” budget for this school year, which would have schools open without new books and supplies. In June, 3,700 staff were laid off to cut costs, leaving schools without counselors, aides, secretaries and nurses — and that’s after 23 schools closed after last school year, including University City High School and Wilson Elementary School near Penn, where many Penn students used to volunteer.
How’d it get to this point?
The funding woes aren’t brand new. During the 2011-2012 school year, the school district had to borrow $300 million to make up the difference between its costs and its revenue.
There were two sources of funding that started to dry up: federal and state money.
Federal stimulus money started to run out in 2011-2012 after massive increases the previous two years — that school year, the school district’s federal funding was slashed by 30 percent.
Making matters worse for the school district, the state also decreased its spending by 7 percent compared to the year before. While Philadelphia upped its contribution, it couldn’t completely cover the difference — the school district’s budget decreased almost 7 percent.
Why doesn’t everyone just pitch in a little more to make the problem go away?
The school district had a plan to make things go more smoothly this school year. Hite asked for $120 million more from the state, $60 million more from the city and $133 million from the teachers’ union. He hasn’t had much luck getting this money so far though.
The Republican-led state government — Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration in particular — is unwilling to give more to Philadelphia. Instead of the $120 million requested by Hite, the state offered a one-time $45 million grant, but the state won’t pay up until the teachers’ union agrees to cuts in their contract.
Even though the teachers’ contract expired on Aug. 31, the union and the school district are still in negotiations. Teachers say they’ve given up too much already, but the city says it needs even more. Until that’s resolved, the state money remains frozen.
For its part, Philadelphia — led by 1979 Wharton graduate Mayor Michael Nutter — is extending a sales tax increase that allowed it to borrow $50 million to open schools on time.
A new school year will start next Monday and how this summer’s drama will play out in the classroom will become clear.