Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett authorized an advance of $265 million to Philadelphia public schools on Wednesday. The hope is that the money can be used to fill a budget gap that could keep students from filling classrooms in September.
"The goals of this action is to allow the doors to open on day one and avoid layoffs," said Corbett as he briefed the press inside his Southeast Office in Center City Philadelphia. He was flanked by School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite and other leaders for the announcement.
Corbett said the money represents early disbursement of funds that the schools would normally receive through the academic year. He said $120 million of that will come from the certified extension of a 1-percent sales tax added on to purchases in Philadelphia.
The district's woes are far from over. Hite says the district still has an $81 million budget gap. He says officials continue to consider layoffs, a delayed start or a shortened school year.
The up-front funding announced by Corbett on Wednesday represents early disbursement of money the schools would normally receive through the academic year.
Corbett said he was disappointed that legislative leaders could not agree on a proposal to authorize the city to levy a $2-per-pack cigarette tax to general more than $80 million for the schools. The measure won preliminary votes in both houses but was stalled from passage due to disputes over the measure's other provisions.
Corbett said the cigarette tax still needs to get passed to assure longer-term funding.
Protesters gathered outside Corbett's office as the announcement was made. Corbett has been dogged by protesters over school funding for a couple of years now.
Corbett’s event began just before a Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing hosted by Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phil/Montco) about the proposed $2 a pack cigarette tax.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter testified at the hearing at Philadelphia City Hall. Nutter has said that the cash-strapped district needs more money fast. Hite is also expected to testify about the potential impact of a delay in the cigarette tax.
Education could become a hot-button issue for Corbett who is running for re-election in a contested battle with Democrat Tom Wolf.