Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must make the choice between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he chooses corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Gov. 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, Gov. Corbett has expanded tax breaks for corporations and the energy industry while cutting $1 billion from education statewide.
The $50 million Mayor Nutter borrowed at the eleventh hour may allow schools to open on time, but they will do so with bare-bones resources and without counselors, nurses, music teachers, librarians, administrative assistants and even copy paper. Twenty-four schools have been closed, and 4,000 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 took more than $304 million from Philadelphia schools. Gov. Corbett has only come up with $15 million to fill that gap.
- Philadelphia teaches 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s students, but has had to endure more than 25 percent of the Corbett budget cuts.
- The state has run the Philadelphia school system since 2001. 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 School Reform Commission laid off 3,800 employees, including:
- All 127 assistant principals;
- 676 teachers;
- All 283 counselors;
- 1,202 aides;
- 307 secretaries; and
- 769 supportive service assistants.
- 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.
- Even before the latest round of layoffs, Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts had devastated Philadelphia schools:
- 86 percent of non-teaching assistant positions were eliminated.
- There are 101 fewer school nurses.
- There are only 42 certified librarians for 249 schools.
- One out of four schools does not have a full-time music teacher.
- The number of counselors, student advisers and social service liaisons has been cut in half.
- There have been significant reductions in support services for children with disabilities and English language learners, and numerous tutoring and sports programs have been eliminated.
- The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has always been willing to work with management to find constructive solutions to the problems Philadelphia schools face. Just two 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.”
- While Philadelphia schools are in a financial crisis created by the state, Pennsylvania is spending $400 million on building a new prison in Philadelphia.
- When Mayor Nutter asked Pennsylvania for $130 million in additional state funding, Gov. Corbett delivered only $16 million.
- The Obama administration provided $45 million in debt forgiveness to Pennsylvania that was meant to address the funding gap for Philadelphia. Despite the fact that the money was earmarked by the federal government, Gov. Corbett is holding that money hostage until Philadelphia teachers take a 10 to 20 percent pay cut from their new contract.
- The City Council did pass a $2-per-pack cigarette tax that would have generated $74 million for schools, but the state failed to enact it.
- Mayor Nutter has yet to take steps to raise additional funds by asking the wealthiest tax-exempt organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania, to make a payment to the city to help support the very public services these organizations rely on. UPenn and Columbia are the only universities in the Ivy League that don’t make such payments.
- 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. Gov. Corbett’s response to this was to call for even more tax breaks going forward, while starving Philadelphia schools.
- The impact fee for natural gas producers is the lowest in the nation. If Gov. Corbett modeled the West Virginia tax on fracking, $205 million in revenue could be generated.
- Just weeks before school is set to open, Pennsylvania charter school operators went directly to Gov. Corbett to request an additional $150 million per year, because other policymakers have neglected to change the state’s funding formula in charters’ favor.
- Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite noted, "[G]iven 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 found that voters disapproved 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 negative attitude toward Corbett resonated across the state; he is performing as badly in the Pittsburgh media market as he is in the Philadelphia media market. In 2010, he won the Pittsburgh media market handily.
- According to a Republican poll for PennCAN, Corbett’s re-election is centered on instigating a fight with Philadelphia teachers on education spending to tap into Philadelphia resentment statewide and buoy his base.
Voters in Philadelphia and across the state are angry at the deep cuts to education that have been made since Corbett took power in Pennsylvania. They are demanding fair funding from Harrisburg and Gov. Corbett, including the release of the $45 million in federal funds that was designated for the Philadelphia schools.
Philadelphia schools are governed by a five-member state-run board called the School Reform Commission. The SRC currently consists of two members appointed by Corbett, two members nominated by Mayor Nutter, and one holdover from Gov. Rendell who has been the only dissenting vote on the commission. Corbett, Superintendent Hite and the SRC have the power to put an end to their agenda which starves our schools and hurts our kids.
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.