City schools get national attention

One of the reasons I suggest in a Monday column that the fiscal puzzle to funding Philly schools isn't as unsolvable as it might seem is played out in Monday's New York Times.

The national newspaper brings national attention to the "doomsday budget" approved by the School Reform Commission that lays off thousands of employees, shuts down programs and athletics and threatens to leave the district a virtual hull of education come September.

I believe the more attention the issue gets from the media the more likely the issue gets attention from the governor and the Legislature.

The proposed five-year funding solution seeks roughly equal amounts of new money from the city, the teachers' union and the state. All are heavy lifts.

But while the usual politics of PA vs. Philly suggest the Republican governor and the Republican Legislature have no money for and less interest in a school district in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, there are other factors at work.

Gov. Corbett seeks reelection next year. I've argued he doesn't want to be running while the state's largest school district (which is run by the state) is run into the ground.

Every national story about the dire situation in Philly schools reflects just as badly on state officials, who took schools over back in 2001, as it does on anyone in the city.

And even though a top aide to the state Senate GOP leader tells The Times, "At this moment there's no obvious path to reach the outcome being sought by the Philadelphia School District," there are indications that can change within the next two weeks.

Senior state administration officials say they believe the district is as bad off as it claims, which is different than in past years, and are working to help.

The state's acting education secretary, William Harner, writes in a Monday op-ed piece that the governor and the administration are "attuned" to the district's problems and that a long-term solution is "paramount."

I don't mean to suggest this is an easy fix. Far too many lawmakers see Philly schools as a bottomless rat hole sucking down public dollars. But the political option of allowing the district to die, in the national spotlight, as the governor seeks reelection, doesn't seem a likely choice.