Philadelphia, June 4, 2013 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter was joined by Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Hite, Philadelphia Charter Schools for Excellence President Dr. Naomi Booker, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools President Lawrence Jones and members of the charter school community at a press conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to advocate for increased funding for Philadelphia public schools from the Commonwealth, the passage of legislation to enable the City to provide new revenue to the School District and a student-weighted funding formula for all school districts in the Commonwealth. The press conference launched a day of meetings with Pennsylvania state legislators.
His prepared remarks follow, check against delivery:
“Greater Philadelphia is the 5th largest metropolitan area in the United States of America. Philadelphia is essential to the economic growth of Pennsylvania, and high quality education is essential to a skilled and competent work force. One in every 11 children in Pennsylvania – nearly 200,000 students – attends a Philadelphia public school.
“Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Hite and the School Reform Commission, the Philadelphia School District has been putting its house in order and gaining national recognition for successful reforms, including the expansion of high-performing charter and district schools as well as turnarounds of low-performing schools.
“However, despite this progress, the public education system in Philadelphia is underfunded, and the School District currently faces a $304 million structural deficit. This hurts all public school students—district and charter alike. We have seen dramatic growth in the number of charter schools since the first 4 charters opened in 1997. And we anticipate that nearly 60,000 of the 200,000 Philadelphia School District students will be educated in a charter school next year – that is nearly 30% of our public school population.
“High-quality charters have become a vital part of our public education landscape. In the last 10 years, our high school graduation rate has improved by 20%. High-performing charter schools have played an enormous role in those gains. Charter schools have been, and will continue to, play an important role in the diverse array of public school options here in Philadelphia. However, if we do not address the crippling budget deficit we have in front of us, Philadelphia’s charter schools could see a 12% cut in funding next year. This is on top of an already drastic 7% cut this year. This continued funding reduction will negatively affect all charter schools and will dramatically impact some smaller community-based charter schools.
“Charter schools are already feeling the brunt of these fiscal challenges. This year, twenty-one charter schools applied for enrollment expansions. None of those requests were granted—meaning thousands of children remain on waiting lists. It is imperative for charters that the District secures new revenue and achieves fiscal stability to provide for more high-quality District and charter seats.
“In the meantime, the City and the District have made, and will continue to make, the difficult decisions needed to right-size the district, reduce administrative staff as well as secure and pursue reductions in personnel costs through a professionalized contract. We will continue to close underutilized buildings while seeking to reduce the number of children in chronically poor performing schools. Every child in Philadelphia deserves a high quality education…every child.
“Charter and District schools and more importantly, their families, are hurting. That is why charter schools are committed to working with me and the District, senators and state representatives and Dr. Hite and all of us for more City and State dollars to fund all of our public schools.
“I want to take a moment to thank the members of the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact – our citywide commitment to high quality schools. The Compact has paved the way for unprecedented level of collaboration and partnership between two sectors of public education that have not always worked well together. I want to acknowledge that group for its leadership and commitment and dedication because they are showing what everyone needs to show—which is that the only issue here, the only group that really matters is not the adults—it is our children.
“Adults need to learn how to work together on behalf of our children and actually resolve the immediate financial crisis and provide a path. This is very important.
“So one of the things we hear is that year after year after year the District comes asking for money. Well you’re right, because year after year after year the District doesn’t get what it has asked for, and when you shortchange someone, they have to come back year after year after year.
“This year is different. The request that’s being made—the $304 million gap—actually brings structural, financial stability to the School District in their five year plan, which now for the first time they put forward a five year plan that is really balanced for all five years. That is why we need fill this gap right now so we’re not back here year, after year, after year.
“These ‘asks’ are an interrelated package, as has been mentioned:
- $60 million from the City;
- $120 million from the State;
- Financial cost reductions and a professionalized contract for teachers and principals; and,
- A weighted, enrollment-driven funding formula that is based on student need.
“If this package is secured, this entire package will bring the District to fiscal balance in a five year plan. It is very, very important to emphasize that point. This is the moment to solve this crisis so we’re not back here year after year after year. It is time to take a step to the next level.
“I’d like to focus on the funding formula for a moment. This formula is not just about what’s fair for Philadelphia, but basically if you talk to residents outside of the city of Philadelphia—in the House, in the Senate, Democrats, Republicans—increasingly folks tell me to recognize that it’s not just about Philadelphia, but for every school district. All 500 school districts across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania need a change in the funding formula. Dozens of school districts are suffering financially as a result of the current formula that is in place now. This is not just a Philadelphia issue.
“This formula is essential to the long-term financial stability and academic outcomes of our children’s education. According to a recent study, Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the United States of America that doesn’t fund its own school districts based on the actual number of public school students who are served.
“I am proud to say that the City of Philadelphia has increased its local contribution in educating our children by $90 million annually—and I recognize that we are asking City leaders to make another heavy lift. The bottom line is that we cannot and will not let our schoolchildren down. This is our responsibility as adults to look after our children.
“I am looking for support here in Harrisburg for my proposed package, which will raise that $95 million in City funds for schools. It includes:
- Increasing the liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10% to 15%, resulting in $22 million generated;
- Establishing a $2 per pack cigarette tax, resulting in $45 million generated; and
- Improving the collection of delinquent taxes, resulting in $28 million generated.
“We call on our state legislators in both the House and the Senate as well as Governor’s office to:
- Provide $120 million in new funding for Philadelphia public schools;
- Pass legislation that authorizes the City to increase the liquor tax, allow us to establish a cigarette tax and to go after tax delinquents more aggressively; and
- Create a bipartisan commission to establish a fair and equitable funding formula that is based on enrollment and students needs.
“We must do this for our children and for their future. Thank you.”