Saturday, August 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A $57 million School District assumption that hasn't panned out

Remember the $629 million budget gap the School District walked into Council with this spring? It was only part of the story. The district's budget gap was only $629 million if a couple of things happened: 1) The schools got $75 million in concessions from its unions -- that hasn't happened yet; 2) the schools got $57 million in charter reimbursements from the state. That appears to not be happening: The budget passed by the State Senate last night eliminates charter school reimbursements entirely.

A $57 million School District assumption that hasn't panned out

Remember the $629 million budget gap the School District walked into Council with this spring? It was only part of the story. The district's budget gap was only $629 million if a couple of things happened: 1) The schools got $75 million in concessions from its unions -- that hasn't happened yet; 2) the schools got $57 million in charter reimbursements from the state. That appears to not be happening: The budget passed by the State Senate last night eliminates charter school reimbursements entirely.

What are charter school reimbursements? Basically, they're an acknowledgement that when a student goes from a public school to a charter school and takes per-pupil funding with her, she leaves some cost behind. As the Daily News said last month:

Every child who leaves a traditional public school does not also take a fraction of a teacher or part of the school building he's leaving. Ultimately, a district educating fewer students will spend less, but building consolidation and staff downsizing takes time.

(Full disclosure: I'm married to a Philadelphia charter school teacher.)

There are a number of issues surrounding the state's push for more charter schools. Being unrealistic about their cost doesn't seem like a great way to start resolving them -- so that's a bad job by the state.

Having said that, if this money isn't coming, the fact that the school district made this assumption doesn't paint a pretty picture about the schools' fiscal planning, either.

UPDATE: Kristen Graham reports that when the district subtracts the $57 million, then adds $22 million from an Accountability Block Grant, it winds up with a new $35 million shortfall.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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