Now that the vote on the cigarette tax is stalled until September, once again the School District of Philadelphia will be opening its doors on September 8 with a looming deficit. So what now? The promised monies did not provide any guarantees to make sure that all schools were fully funded because despite the possible new tax and the extension of the city sales tax, Pennsylvania still does not have a full funding formula. It appears as we are expected to wait until a new governor is elected to achieve that. And the elected officials claim that the cigarette tax is weighted with other agreements that have not been fully shared, which is why they want to wait. They would like the opportunity to think about it fully with clearer heads and not feel threatened by a doomsday budget crisis. The only problem with this thinking is that the crisis is now even worse and children are right in the middle.
Without the expected “magical monies” the district expects to layoff an additional 1,000 employees. This should come as no surprise since last year public schools in Philadelphia opened its doors with a similar budget crisis and as a result counselors, support staff, and nurses were cut. This threatened graduation assistance for high school and college admission, it threatened the health and well-being of each and every student, and it threatened the morale of every building.
Other options to increase public school funding across the state were not even considered after all of the visits and protests. The options continue to be the need for a full fair funding formula, the expansion of Medicaid, the reinstatement of the charter school reimbursement, increase in funding for higher education, changes in the liquor regulations, and lastly the cigarette tax. There are talks of a possible lawsuit in play as a result of the state not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to Philadelphia, but none of these will bring the swift solution necessary to make the schools open fully funded and safely if the state does not vote yes on everything. There has to be commitment to public education and making sure that access does not penalize those communities mired in poverty, unemployment, apathy, and poor healthcare.
Yet, there has already been a meeting about the School Redesign initiative for Philadelphia Schools. Developing new partnerships and promoting innovation are wonderful if the foundation is solid and secure. It is not. In fact this house is burning more and more each day that Harrisburg stands and refuses to fully repair the problem as opposed to applying more cheap Band-Aids that continue to be ineffective. So what now?