Inadequate funding for Pennsylvania's largest school district could damage the futures of the students and the state's economy, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Monday after he lobbied Gov. Tom Corbett for more aid.
Nutter, a second-term Democrat, declined to lay blame for the worst fiscal crisis in memory in Philadelphia's schools. But he said things have to change.
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"We cannot continue to go year after year after year with literally hat in hand to _ whether its City Council and the mayor or the General Assembly and the governor _ begging for the bare minimums,'' Nutter told reporters following a meeting in the Capitol with the Republican governor. "This is an economic issue. It's beyond a moral issue now. It is potentially damaging the futures of children, the economy of the city and, I would suggest, the state as well.''
Nutter sought to press Corbett to clarify the conditions under which the administration would release an extra $45 million that the Legislature had approved for the city's schools. The bill containing the money said the secretary of education must issue a written certification that the Philadelphia School District has, in the secretary's judgment, begun making improvements to fiscal stability, educational improvement and operational control.
Nutter said the schools are functioning, but under the worst financial circumstances.
"It is nowhere near an ideal situation,'' Nutter said. "It's nowhere near even an adequate situation.''
Corbett's office had no immediate response on the meeting.
Nutter also said Pennsylvania needs a clear formula that guides how the state distributes billions of dollars in public school aid, something that 47 other states have. Currently, leaders of the Legislature's Republican majority and Corbett decide behind closed doors each year how to distribute the money to 500 school districts.
Layoff notices that went out in June in Philadelphia claimed 20 percent of the school district's employees, sweeping out practically every employee aside from teachers and principals. The laid-off staff included lunchroom aides, secretaries, classroom aides, guidance counselors, librarians, nurses and assistant principals.
A fight between the city and state over funding one of the nation's largest school districts continues, with pressure now on teachers to accept deep wage cuts. A pledge by Nutter to borrow $50 million against future sales tax receipts has prompted the rehiring of some laid-off staff and encouraged the superintendent to open schools Sept. 9, as planned, after he threatened not to open doors there.
Nutter also supports legislation that stalled in the Legislature that would let the city of Philadelphia impose taxes on sales of cigarettes to provide additional money to schools that serve about 190,000 traditional and charter school students.