Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has committed to advancing $265 million to help the financially strapped Philadelphia school district open schools on time.
Corbett’s announcement on Wednesday comes as the legislature declined to return to Harrisburg, the state capital, to vote on legislation allowing the city to levy a $2-a-pack cigarette tax that would have provided the schools with about $80 million in a full year and stave off the possibility of massive layoffs this year.
Both houses preliminarily approved the tax in July, but the proposal became mired in amendments and other issues unrelated to Philadelphia’s schools. The legislators went on break without giving final approval to the bill.
Even with Corbett’s announcement on Wednesday, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite did not make any promises that schools would open as planned on Sept. 8, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“It changes nothing about what we’re considering,” Hite said at a press conference in which both he and Corbett spoke, the Associated Press reported.
Among the options on the table to deal with the $81 million deficit: more than 1,000 layoffs and an abbreviated school year. In July, the district laid off 342 workers, mainly aides and special education assistants. Final decisions will be made by Aug. 15.
Hite said the district needed funds “not just to start the year, but to ensure that the people we carry on payroll are still on payroll at the end of the year,” according to the Associated Press.
The $265 million is not new money: It’s an advance on funding the district would have received during the year. The governor says that making the money available early would save the district about $5 million in borrowing expenses.
In the past, Corbett’s camp has called on the teachers’ union to make further concession to help the district.
Corbett did so again Wednesday, charging that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had not made enough efforts to cut pension costs, which, he said, had skyrocketed in the last decade by $66 million, or 188 percent, according to the Associated Press.
In response to the governor’s offer, PFT President Jerry Jordan said the $265 million was insufficient to provide the necessary resources for the district’s children or undo what he described as the “damage done by Governor Corbett’s cuts to public education.” He urged the legislature to reconvene to pass the cigarette tax.
The details of Philadelphia’s budget woes are well-known, but for those who were not paying attention, Mayor Michael Nutter, in calling for the passage of the cigarette tax, reviewed them Wednesday for a Senate Appropriations Committee that was conducting a hearing on the Philadelphia budget crisis.
“Let me start by stating a simple truth: Without enactment of the cigarette tax, the school district of Philadelphia does not have the necessary revenue to open schools on time, safely, and for the entire year,” according to Nutter’s prepared remarks. “That is unacceptable. It would mean Philadelphia’s children will not have their right to a quality education delivered to them—not because of anything they have done, but because of the actions—or in this instance, the inactions—of adults.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.