Nutter budget has no new cash for schools

Posted: March 08, 2014

Mayor Nutter couldn't have put the need for school funding in starker terms.

In his budget address Thursday, he called public education the "paramount issue" facing City Council. Later he described getting more money for the schools as "a fight for the future of this city."

But his own spending plan offered no new revenue streams for schools, relying instead on two proposed taxes with uncertain fates to come up with the $195 million the School District has asked for.

Education advocates were quick to say the city had "shortchanged" children again, and Nutter acknowledged that his initial budget was a bit light.

"To make that up, quite honestly, we would have to find an additional funding source to close that gap," the mayor said. "We have work to do to get both [taxes] passed and figure out what new potential funding source can make up the gap."

He declined to discuss what options he could propose to cover the difference. In past years, Nutter has pushed a borrowing plan and a soft-drink tax, both unsuccessfully.

"Let's, at least for the moment, let 'Plan A' be the plan that's out there," he said. "We'll deal with contingencies in April, May, and June."

Primarily, the district is counting on Council to extend the city's extra 1 percent sales tax, devoting the bulk of the money raised - $120 million - to the schools.

On Wednesday, School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. requested an additional $75 million, for a total request of $195 million.

But Nutter said he supported Council President Darrell L. Clarke's call to split the sales-tax revenue with the city's underfunded pension system, meaning the schools would get just $70 million from the tax revenue.

The only other revenue source on the table is the $2-a-pack cigarette tax that Council passed last year. That tax, if enacted, would generate about $83 million - leaving the city $42 million short of the district's request.

But state legislators balked last year at giving the city permission to enact the tax, and few political insiders believe it has much of a shot at passage this year.

Rob Wonderling heads the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied hard last year for the cigarette tax.

"I think it remains to be seen whether it will stall again," Wonderling said after Nutter's budget address. "But I think there should be a heavy dose of political reality in an election year, particularly as it relates to the Republican majority in the House of Representatives."

Helen Gym of the activist group Parents United said cuts have left the schools in desperate shape, while parents and residents were losing faith that government could reverse the trend of "dramatic disinvestment."

"I don't know how many schools are going to be able to survive another year if the budget looks like this," she said. "I don't think Philadelphia is doing enough. I don't think they're trying hard enough."



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