Schools in one of America’s largest cities may not open on time this year, and even if they do, they may be faced with half days or lack of staff after a series of severe budget cuts. Earlier this summer, the Philadelphia School District passed draconian budget cuts that lead to a reduction of nearly 20% of school staff including assistant principals, aides, secretaries and some teachers. This budget means that if classes do start on time – which is an open question – those classes may be without paper, other classroom supplies, aides or a full teaching staff.
The city is asking for $50 million to open on time, along with a request for another $100 million plus from the state as well as $100 million in givebacks from local teachers unions in order to bridge part, but not all of the budget gap. If Philadelphia schools can’t get at least the $50 million by what is supposed to be the first day of classes, classes may not happen. Other scenarios include opening only some schools, or starting the year on half days. It is unclear what would happen during the remainder of the year to make up time lost as state law requires students have 180 days of schooling.
CivSource previously reported on Pennsylvania’s education budget fight last year, when Governor Corbett signed into law a new performance based pay structure along with many severe cuts to the state’s overall education budget. Set against this backdrop, the additional funds the School District is asking for, seem unlikely to manifest. State aid to Philadelphia schools declined by $274 million in the past three years, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association. There is also no summer school available. Still, the state will have to account for ensuring enough full school days in Philadelphia or be in violation of its own laws.
Similar scenarios are playing out in states with Republican Governors, like Kansas, where Governor Brownback had several proposed cuts to state education budgets overruled by the State Supreme Court citing violations of the state constitution. Corbett’s budget has passed, as did the Philadelphia School District, although not without protest. Corbett has advanced another plan that would send more state revenue to schools although nothing has been formalized or passed yet.
Over the summer the School District laid off 127 assistant principals, 646 teachers and more than 1,200 aides. And now, according to Superintendent Dr. William Hite, that means schools will be impossible to open as there will be too few adults minding the student population.
“I am in the unfortunate position today of having to announce that if we do not receive at least $50 million by Friday, August 16, the School District of Philadelphia will be forced to consider alternatives to starting the 2013-14 school year on Monday, September 9. This means that we may not be able to open any schools on September 9, that we may only be able to open a few, or that we might be open for a half-day. We will not be able to open all 218 schools for a full-day program. Without the funds to restore crucial staff members, we cannot open functional schools, run them responsibly or provide a quality education to students,” Hite said in a statement.
The state is considering buying back unused buildings and other real estate from the District in and offering a cash advance to close the $50 million gap, according to local press accounts, although nothing is yet set in stone.