Philadelphia School District faces $629 million budget shortfall, asks city for more funds
The School District of Philadelphia is facing a $629 million budget shortfall and has requested an additional $75 to $110 million in funding from the city, a 20 percent decline from the previous year (PDF). Paired with Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to cut $1.2 billion in state K-12 funding and the sunsetting of federal stimulus dollars, the city is looking at a $1,406 reduction [Excel Doc] in per pupil spending.
At a budget meeting yesterday at the City Council, the school district made clear cuts to programs and payroll that would lead to layoffs were impossible to avoid.
Out of Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts, Philadelphia is the only one that has no taxing authority, as mandated in the city’s charter. Philadelphia schools therefore compete for funding with other city programs.
Despite its size, Philadelphia receives a smaller amount of education dollars per pupil. The southeastern portion of Pennsylvania, where the city is located, averages $13,000 in spending per student; the more affluent Lower Marion averages $21,000 per student; Philadelphia, because of limited revenue streams and despite the high rate of special needs students, averages roughly $11,000 per student.
Two years ago, the city allocated 60 percent of its revenue to education. Since then, though the city increased taxes, funds allocated to the school district have decreased, largely because federal stimulus dollars that went directly to the school district are no longer available .
Philadelphia schools have for a decade maneuvered around limited autonomy. In 2001, the state took over (PDF) the district, disbanding the nine-person school council, and instated the School Reform Commission (SRC) composed of three members appointed by the governor and two appointed by the city’s mayor.
But Gov. Corbett’s drastic education cuts have compelled many to ask why he would support a proposed Senate bill, SB 1, that would divert hundreds of millions from general state expenditures to a statewide voucher program.
Though originally billed as a solution for low-income students to enroll in better performing private schools, a new agreement between one of the framers of the proposed law, Senate Republican Jeffrey Piccola, and the governor allows families with an income of 350 percent above the poverty line to be eligible for the funds in 2015-2016. The original income eligibility requirements were in the range of 130 to 185 percnet of the federal poverty line. The jump means a family of four earning up to $78,225 would qualify if the law is passed.
Philadelphia is already a national leader in school choice alternatives for students; a quarter of the district’s 203,000 students are enrolled (PDF) in public charter schools. Per pupil spending on charter-enrolled students is slightly less than the district as a whole, with $10,200 allocated. Most charters in the city are under the aegis of the state-created SRC.
The proposed 2011-2012 budget notes 60 percent of the city’s education spending is locked up in personnel costs. The document explains:
the School District is asking its unions to re-open their contracts and consider modifications to wages and benefits that will lower the District’s costs and avoid further layoffs, program terminations, and devastating cutbacks in educational programs for students.
The budget meetings, planned months in advance, will continue through Wednesday.