Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez is proposing that the city provide the School District of Philadelphia with a “one-time targeted” grant of up to $50 million to hire back nurses, counselors and other school employees.
This spring, city and state lawmakers cobbled together about $140 million from a variety of sources to help close the district’s $304 million budget gap. Without new money, the district had prepared a “doomsday budget” that called for about 3,800 employees to be laid off.
The district had asked for the city and state to provide $180 million, with the rest of the money to close the gap to come from union concessions.
Sánchez noted that the city had a $200 million increase in revenue in the last fiscal year and is anticipating a “significant surplus” in the current fiscal year.
“We have the opportunity to make a significant short-term investment in our schools and prevent a looming catastrophe,” she said.
She also suggested the state could give the city relief from the “maintenance of efforts” requirement for school funding, which does not allow the city to cut funding to the schools. The requirement is the reason often cited for rejecting proposal like Sánchez’s – the city can’t give $50 million to the schools this year without providing the money next year as well.
That’s also why policymakers prefer raising or creating new taxes, which are steady revenue streams, to bail out the schools.
City Council this year passed a cigarette tax to help fund the schools, but the state failed to give permission to enact it. Sánchez called on state lawmakers to enact the tax this fall.
Sánchez also sponsored a bill this spring to raise the business Use and Occupancy tax, which flows to the schools. The tax was raised in 2012, but Sánchez couldn’t get enough support to raise it two years in a row.
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