Comments on the School Reform Commission’s actions and the launch of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding
Philadelphia, October 7, 2014 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter released the following statement on public education funding in response to events that occurred on Monday. The statement is as follows, please check against delivery (attached is a document outlining state and local funding to the School District of Philadelphia):
“Today, I want to address two significant events that occurred yesterday and that will impact public education in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
First, in Harrisburg on Monday, a coalition of more than 40 organizations kicked off the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, an effort to ensure that every student has access to a quality education – no matter where they live in Pennsylvania.
Second, the School Reform Commission voted unanimously Monday morning to require PFT members to contribute to their healthcare benefits so that the School District can provide more money to schools and classrooms.
On the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, I am honored to be aligned with this diverse group of organizations that aim to work with parents and community members throughout the state to send a message to state legislators that fair funding for all public schools must be their top priority this year. The launch of this campaign coincides with the on-going work of the Basic Education Funding Commission and the widespread recognition that more and more school districts across Pennsylvania are facing grim financial circumstances.
I’d like thank our Philadelphia delegation and other elected city and state officials for the “stopgap” measures they have approved to address some of the financial challenges facing our Philadelphia public schools. The legislature’s recent passage of the $2-per-pack cigarette tax and the extension of our city’s sales tax will reduce some of the District’s fiscal instability. However, these measures are not sufficient to ensure that all Philadelphia students achieve at high levels and are ready for college or work, nor will they bring long-term fiscal stability to the District. In short, Philadelphia students are without the funds they need to succeed.
But here in Philadelphia, we’ve stepped up to the challenges of the school funding crisis over the last six years, as this document shows [see attachment]. We have increased the local annual contribution to our public schools, both district and charter managed, by $357 million over that period – by far the largest increase in the local contribution in the last 30 years. And City taxpayers now pay a higher percent of District costs than they have at any time in that same period.
These new dollars come from property tax increases, a use and occupancy tax increase, parking fee increases, the sales tax, the new cigarette tax and improved delinquent tax collections. Local taxpayers have done their part.
The School District has also done its part by cutting 5,000 positions, closing 32 school buildings and renegotiating contracts with the blue-collar union and the principals union. These changes have impacted thousands of students and district employees, resulting in deep salary cuts and new contributions to health care premiums for the latter.
The school funding crisis has affected nearly everyone in this city. We are trapped in an on-going, seemingly never-ending battle to make it through a school year – to even OPEN our schools. Yesterday, we saw the latest dire manifestation of the public school funding crisis. The SRC did one of the few things left for it to do in order to get desperately needed services back into our schools. They asked their teachers and counselors and others in PFT to contribute to their healthcare.
As I’ve already said, principals and janitors alike have taken pay cuts over the last two years. They have already agreed to similar health care benefit changes. I support this and hope others can see it for what it is – another consequence of this horrible situation our schools have had to face year after year. I am pleased that Dr. Hite has chosen to reinvest these savings in schools and that our schools will have a say in determining how this reinvestment will be used in their buildings. I have been in many schools and know what students are doing without and I also know what teachers are doing without. I see how hard working they are. They are the backbone of the system. And in some small way, this reinvestment will make it better for students and teachers in schools ever day.
One striking example of the struggles of schools in Philadelphia: Principal Linda Carroll of Northeast High School, for instance, has a total operations budget for her 3,000 students of $15,000. That comes out to $5 a student for the basic school supplies required for a rudimentary education during the school year.
Another example: Last spring I went on a school listening tour. I visited George Washington High School in the far Northeast. I learned that there was one counselor for a school of more than 650 students. That is inexcusable. By requiring teachers to contribute to healthcare costs, additional resources, like counselors, can be added back into the classroom to prevent the educational calamity Philadelphia public school students face on a daily basis.
And I hope that both the School District and the PFT will get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible, so that they can resolve the issues that stand between them.
Yesterday, at the launch of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding in Harrisburg, I heard again from other districts from across the Commonwealth. The list of cuts and hardships in rural, urban and suburban districts is chilling now and for the future.
Philadelphia is not the only District in this situation. This isn’t just a Philadelphia problem. This is a state-wide problem that demands a state-wide solution. So, I will say it again, and end with this: The way forward for all schools in Pennsylvania is a fair and full funding formula for the state’s basic education funding. And that is what we all should be focusing our efforts on in the days ahead.”