As city and state officials and the teacher's union continue to battle over funding for Philadelphia's schools, Mayor Michael Nutter is challenging citizens to put up extra cash for school supplies.
Called the Philadelphia Education Supplies Fund, Mayor Nutter implored citizens, nonprofits and corporations to donate money to the program that will buy school supplies for all K-12 schools in the city -- even charter and parochial.
"We all have a role to play in supporting the next generation of Philadelphia's leaders," Mayor Nutter said standing with the city's educational leaders.
The city hopes to raise $500,000 by October 15. To kickstart the late funding push, the city dropped $200,000 into the initiative, according to Mayor Nutter.
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Philanthropist James Maguire also committed $100,000 through his nonprofit, The Maguire Foundation, bringing the total start up funding to $300,000.
The total goal, the mayor says, is to raise $2.5 million over the next five years. City government will inject $1 million over that span.
The fund will be administered by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and money collected through their website.
Money collected through the program would be used to buy supplemental supplies like pens, paper and other classroom items.
"I've heard from so many people who are interested in helping and getting involved in education for children," the mayor said. "Everyone can do something. Today's announcement is an immediate opportunity for our citizens, our nonprofits, businesses and corporations and the philanthropic community to come together in support of education in our city."
Philadelphia public school teachers took a similar approach just a few weeks ago, on their own, asking strangers to give money through a crowdfunding website.
The cash-strapped public school system allots only $100 per teacher for supplies for the entire year. The money donated through the fund would be in addition to that allotment.
The Education Supplies Fund is modeled after a similar initiative the city launched several summers ago to keep many of the city's public pools open, even as the parks department's operations budget was slashed.
Before unveiling the fund, Mayor Nutter implored city and state politicians to pass laws to raise additional money for the city's public schools.
Mayor Nutter asked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to release $45 million in funding promised to the district. Gov. Corbett has held up that money saying he won't send it down until the teacher's union makes contract concessions.
The mayor also asked the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass the city's cigarette tax. That $2-a-pack tax would earn $85 million a year, he said.
He also asked Philadelphia City Council to pass an extension of the city's 1-percent sales tax hike.
The School District of Philadelphia continues to search for more than $100 million in funding to close a budget deficit that has left schools without thousands of staff members -- including nurses, administrators and support staff.
The eighth-largest public school district in the nation, the School District of Philadelphia teaches more than 134,000 students in public-run schools. Another 63,000 students are enrolled in city charter schools.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said he support's the mayor's initiative, but said charity, while always accepted, is not the answer.
"We know the public will do all it can to help our schoolchildren, and this fundraising effort will provide a convenient way for citizens to make much-needed contributions," he said in a statement. "But the school district and its teachers should not be in the position of depending solely on charity to buy pencils and paper for schoolchildren."
Mayor Nutter's announcement comes an hour before Philadelphia City Council is set to outline a plan to sell more than two dozen defunct school district buildings worth more than $100 million dollars.
District officials announced two weeks ago they would be completely changing the sale process of the shuttered buildings. Where before teams of community members and leaders would review buyer proposals and determine which would fit best for a neighborhood, now the district is leaning on the city for help.
City officials will assess the properties and fast track the sale of buildings determined to be “highly marketable.”
The funding gap continues as the district and teacher’s union continue to negotiate over a new collective bargaining agreement, more than a week after the prior contract expired.