The financial crisis in Philadelphia's schools is an epic political fail

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Disagreement or disinterest among the elected officials who represent Philadelphia is once again putting the city's public-education system at risk. While some in the political establishment want to believe that the district's solvency problem is the district's fault, the real culprit here is the failure of political leaders to line up behind a certain and sustainable revenue plan to support the schools.

Last year, Gov. Corbett persuaded the Legislature to give Philadelphia the power to turn over $120 million in local sales-tax revenue to the school district. High-profile Philadelphians rallied behind the governor's plan and urged local elected leaders to take the deal. But to date there's been no real action to make these revenues available for the district, while the school district inches closer to the brink of collapse.

It's hard to find a public-school system in the country in worse financial shape than Philadelphia's. It is even harder to find a more paralyzed body politic that is immobilized as children are going to schools without nurses, librarians, guidance counselors or adequate supplies. At least 80 percent of the schools have no librarian, let alone a library. Although slightly more than 200 counselors and 300 art or music teachers may sound ample, their numbers are a drop in the bucket for a school system with more than 10,000 students in each grade. As for adequate supplies, we go cup in hand asking people to contribute so that kids can have paper and pens. Next thing you know, we will be asking for money from UNICEF. And teachers and principals, the very people we rely on to deliver educational services, are being asked to take drastic pay cuts.

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