IOM goes to school


Required Reading

The state took over Philadelphia’s schools in 2001, and created the School Reform Commission to oversee them. But city sources still make up about 30 percent of school funding ($825 million in 2010).

Unfortunately, the state is reducing what it kicks in this year, and federal stimulus funds are expiring. If Council decides it wants to cover some of the difference, it could do so in several ways:

Increase the property tax. Fifty-five percent of city property tax revenue goes directly to the schools (the rest goes to the city). Council could raise the property tax to send more money to the schools.

Increase the district’s share of the property tax. Council could send a higher percentage of property tax revenue to the district, and reduce the city’s share.

Assume costs. Council could accept the transfer of some costs from the district to city departments. In fact, the district has already said it expects the city to assume $11 million of its expenses.

Just give more. Each year, the city makes a direct contribution to the school district. Mayor Nutter’s budget proposes $39 million. Council could decide to give more.

Reasons to Help

The district’s proposed cuts are hideous. To fill its $629 million gap, the district has said it will have to cut 3,000 jobs, yellow buses and subsidized SEPTA passes for many students, and full-day kindergarten (a move that research shows would be devastating).

Fair is fair. Last year, when the city faced a big deficit of its own, it raised the property tax. But it also lowered the portion of the tax that goes to the schools, so the district didn’t get any more money.

Spending on education works. Under Gov. Rendell, spending on education went way up in Pennsylvania … and so did test scores. Almost 300,000 students have been brought up to grade level in reading and math since 2003.

Think of the children! The cuts impacting schools might be happening at the federal and state level, but it will be Philadelphia’s kids that suffer the consequences in quality of life – and the city that suffers in competitiveness.

Reasons Not to Help

The money’s got to come from somewhere. Philadelphians aren’t exactly jonesing for a tax increase. And if the city transfers money from its own budget, that means some other service, like police or sanitation, has to be cut.

Rewarding bad behavior. Take your pick of recent headlines – the flap over political favoritism in a contract to run Martin Luther King High School is a good start – the district’s leadership hasn’t inspired confidence lately. Are these the right folks to send more money?

Less control. If Council gives a dollar to the city’s general fund, it has a direct say in how that dollar gets spent. If it gives a dollar to the school district, it has less say, though the mayor does have two appointees on the School Reform Commission.

Call the bluff. Is the district really going to end full day kindergarten? Really? Or are administrators trying to scare the city and state into ponying up?

An increase is forever. When the state created the SRC, it was worried the city would try to skimp on school funding, so it banned the city from lowering its contribution to the district. Ever. Which means if the city decides to help fill this one-time gap, it has to keep spending more on schools for years to come.

Today's Lesson: Should the
city give more money
to the School District?

This morning, the School District presents its budget to City Council. It is asking for more money -- at least $50 million. The district is facing a $629 million gap, and has threatened big, scary cuts. Council will have to decide whether to help. Let's review the arguments for and against helping the district