If you are involved in Philadelphia Public Schools — an administrator, a teacher, a parent, a city official trying to find funding — you are most likely angry this morning. Thursday’s decision by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to cancel a vote on a cigarette tax that would help fund city schools has left the community reeling.
School may not open on time. And activists are planning protests.
Schools are now only weeks away from their scheduled opening day, but without assurances that the District will have enough funds to operate a functional system, much less one that offers an acceptable education.
Superintendent William Hite, Mayor Nutter, and City Council President Darrell Clarke all called the cancellation of the vote "devastating." House Republicans said they would come back on Sept. 15 instead, but Hite says he needs assurances of the money by Aug. 15 in order to forestall all kinds of operational decisions, including up to 1,300 layoffs.
"We support Dr. Hite's belief that ensuring schools are safe and adequately staffed is more important than opening schools as planned on Sept. 8," Nutter and Clarke said in a joint statement.
The Inquirer reports on a stopgap that nobody but the House seems to like:
House leaders said that in the interim, they will ask the Corbett administration to advance education money to the city's schools.
A spokesman for Gov. Corbett, who has supported the cigarette-tax plan, said Thursday that an advance to the city was under consideration, but that it would not help ease the district's long-term financial problems.
"The ultimate goal here should be that we can open the doors on the first day of school, avoid any layoffs, and ensure that there is a long-term funding plan for the district," said Jay Pagni.
In the meantime, Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery County) is one House member who believes that the legislation will eventually be passed.
“We’ll take that time to meet with members face-to-face for the next month and see what their issues were, try to turn them to ‘yes’ votes, and I’m very confident with more time on our hands, and the money to open the schools being fronted, that the pressure will be off in terms of trying to force people to vote, and then just try to educate them and encourage them to vote for this legislation,” Vereb told KYW Newsradio this afternoon.
Activist Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education issued a fiery condemnation of the House:
The House GOP decision to refuse the barest of funding gestures is a planned sabotage of our schools, our children, and our city. It proves that under Governor Tom Corbett, the “crisis” in Philadelphia has never been accidental, unpredictable, or a surprise. It’s been a purposeful act of cruelty and neglect.
Parents United will consult with legal counsel about our rights and options in the weeks ahead. We believe our children’s lives and well-being are at stake, and will do what’s necessary to protect them from the unforgivable failure and patent cruelty of too many of our elected officials.
Finally, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools said it would demonstrate outside Gov. Corbett's Philly office today. The protest is planned for 5 p.m. at the intersection of Broad and Walnut streets.