Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must choose between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he picks corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Corbett. He is starving the city of resources and then using teachers as scapegoats and Philadelphia families as pawns.
The state has passed a series of devastating budget cuts that disproportionately affect Philadelphia. Since taking office in 2011, Corbett has expanded tax breaks for corporations and the energy industry while cutting $1 billion from education statewide.
Schools are operating with bare-bones resources and without counselors, nurses, music teachers, librarians, administrative assistants and even copy paper. Twenty-four schools have been closed, and thousands of teachers and school support staff have been laid off.
- Since 2011, Gov. Corbett has reversed former Gov. Ed Rendell’s funding formula, which would have put Philadelphia’s funding on an equal footing with the rest of the state.
- Budget cuts and the end of the funding formula have left the school district$748 million short of needed funds. When Mayor Nutter asked Pennsylvania for $130 million in additional state funding, Corbett delivered only $16 million.
- Philadelphia educates 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s students but has endured more than 25 percent of the Corbett budget cuts.
- The state has run the Philadelphia school system since 2001 through a five-member board called the School Reform Commission. The SRC currently consists of three members appointed by Corbett and two members nominated by Mayor Nutter.
- From that time on, the School Reform Commission and former superintendents have doled out millions to outside, for-profit vendors.
- Because of budget cuts, the SRC laid off 3,800 employees in the fall of 2013, including:
- All 127 assistant principals;
- 676 teachers;
- All 283 counselors;
- 1,202 aides;
- 307 secretaries; and
- 769 supportive service assistants.
- Even before the fall 2013 layoffs, Corbett’s budget cuts had devastated Philadelphia schools:
- 86 percent of nonteaching assistant positions were eliminated.
- There were 101 fewer school nurses.
- There were only 42 certified librarians for 249 schools.
- One out of four schools did not have a full-time music teacher.
- The number of counselors, student advisers and social service liaisons were cut in half.
- Support services for children with disabilities and English language learners were significantly reduced, and numerous tutoring and sports programs were eliminated.
- The SRC cut all clubs, sports and music programs for the 2013-14 school year; slashed money for books, supplies and other necessities; and closed 24 schools.
- The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has always been willing to work with management to find constructive solutions to the problems Philadelphia schools face. Just three years ago, the PFT gave $30 million to the school district from the union’s health and welfare fund and loaned it an additional $28 million. The union also negotiated flexible transfer provisions allowing for site selection by teachers. We negotiated the creation of Promise Academies, which include provisions for the selection of all staff, an extended work day and an extended school year. The PFT further stepped up to the plate, negotiating a Professional Growth System that includes peer assistance and review–teachers supporting and monitoring teachers. The School Reform Commission lauded this contract as “strong” and “collaborative.”
- The Obama administration provided $45 million in debt forgiveness to Pennsylvania that was meant to address the education funding gap for Philadelphia. Corbett held that money hostage, demanding Philadelphia teachers take a 10 to 20 percent pay cut from their new contract, but massive public outcry forced him to release the money in October 2013.
- While Philadelphia schools are in a financial crisis created by the state, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million on building a new prison in Philadelphia.
- At the same time that the education system in Philadelphia is being threatened, Pennsylvania corporations are enjoying $2.4 billion in tax breaks. These windfalls are the result of benefits that have been placed in the tax code over the past 10 years. Corbett’s response has been to call for even more tax breaks going forward, while starving Philadelphia schools.
- Pennsylvania’s impact fee for natural gas producers is the lowest in the nation. If Corbett modeled this fee on West Virginia’s tax on fracking, $205 million in revenue could be generated.
- Just weeks before school was set to open for school year 2013-14, Pennsylvania charter school operators went directly to Corbett to request an additional $150 million per year, because other policymakers had declined to change the state’s funding formula in charters’ favor.
- According to Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, “Given the structure of the school code, unmanaged, self-directed charter school growth could force the district into a perpetual deficit.”
- A Republican poll commissioned for Corbett’s re-election and paid for by PennCAN (Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now) found that voters disapprove of his handling of education by more than 38 points. By a margin of 21 points, voters think that the state is headed in the wrong direction, and voters disapprove of Corbett’s job as governor by 13 points. The poll recommended that Corbett’s re-election campaign focus on instigating a fight with Philadelphia teachers on education spending to tap into Philadelphia resentment statewide and buoy his base.
- The negative attitude toward Corbett has spread across the state; he is now performing as badly in the Pittsburgh media market as he is in the Philadelphia media market. In 2010, he had won the Pittsburgh media market handily.
- In February of 2014, Corbett delivered his annual budget address, claiming that school funding would see an increase of $369 million. However, two-thirds of that ($240 million) will be directed to Ready to Learn block grants focused on early learning and supplemental education. Funding for basic education will remain flat, and Philadelphia will see only a $29 million increase through the grant program. The district faces not only a deficit of $29 million from this year but also a lack of $440 million in new funds needed for fiscal year 2015.
- Corbett also appointed a new School Reform Commission chair, former Philadelphia City Council member Bill Green, who has been a vocal supporter of vouchers, charterizing the school district and closing public schools.
- On March 24, 2014, SRC Chair Green and the SRC filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to clarify their authority to impose what they are calling “work rules.” This effectively refers to the district’s capacity to exempt from collective bargaining issues related to seniority, layoffs, recalls, site selection, teacher prep time, and contracting out for substitute teachers. The media calls this the “nuclear option.” The Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN filed briefs supporting the SRC’s position.
- Some schools, like Bartram High School, have had serious safety issues this school year due to increased enrollment and lack of proper staffing.
- While speaking at the American Educational Research Association conference in March 2014, Philadelphia School Partnership Executive Director Mark Gleason described Philadelphia’s portfolio strategy as: “You keep dumping the losers and over time you create a higher bar for what we expect of our schools.”
- PSP is also working at the edges of the public school system to privatize neighborhood schools. PSP, not the district, chose Blaine and W.D. Kelley elementary schools as the latest turnarounds, with no more than half the staff able to keep their jobs for the next school year.
- In March 2014, the district decided to turn over Edward Steel Elementary School to Mastery Charter Schools, and Munoz-Marin Elementary School to ASPIRA of Pennsylvania. Parents voted on the Steel turnover on May 1 (the Munoz-Marin vote has been indefinitely delayed), but the school district still gets to make the final decision.
- The Philadelphia City Council has considered a few options for raising school funds:
- The council voted in October 2013 to give the School District of Philadelphia $50 million in exchange for some of the district’s 24 shuttered schools.
- The Legislature passed legislation to allow Philadelphia to renew a 1 percent sales tax set to expire in June 2014. This could bring an additional $120 million to schools, which the district budget for 2014-15 is already relying on.
- The council passed a $2-per-pack cigarette tax in 2013 that would have generated $74 million for schools, but the state failed to enact it.
The SolutionVoters in Philadelphia and across the state are angry at the deep cuts to education that have been made since Corbett took office in Pennsylvania. They are demanding fair funding from Harrisburg and the governor.
Parents, teachers, students and community leaders are doing their best to control the chaos and fix the damage, but they can’t do it alone. They need policymakers to work with them, put politics aside, and do what’s right for Philadelphia children and public schools.