Governor Wolf expected that the budget deadline would not be met back in June 2015, but he continues to stand his ground as the impasse continues into October. It is vital that he does not budge because the plan includes some very important items that will positively affect all Pennsylvania residents. He proposes the following:
- An increase in state sales and personal income tax to pay for sweeping property tax cuts in the over 500 school districts totaling 2.3 billion dollars in revenue
- Increasing educational spending to 1 billion dollars
- Increasing the state sales tax from 6% to 6.6% totaling 1.5 billion dollars in revenue (the 8% in Philadelphia remains unchanged)
- Revenue to fund Wolf’s property tax relief plan (3.8 billion dollars) for all 500 school districts except Philadelphia
- A 5% tax on Marcellus Shale for the extraction of natural gas plus a per cubic foot fee
- A commitment of 3 billion dollars to refinance PSERS obligations from the proceeds of the State Stores.
This budget will be the most funding that Pennsylvania has ever allotted to education and it is a push in the right direction with gradual tax increases and a taxation on Marcellus Shale. It will provide a revenue stream not based on stimulus dollars, which has proved unsustainable in previous budgets.
Locally, Superintendent Hite stated that the School District of Philadelphia spends approximately $10 million per day just to maintain the status quo of the bare necessities and monies will have to borrowed despite the district’s poor credit rating as they wait for a budget. $34 million has already been spent on the failed experiment of outsourcing substitute teachers to the company Source 4 Teachers based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They projected that they would be at a 75% fill rate and yet they have barely reached the 11% mark. 200 positions still remained unfilled as of two days ago, and Hite just recently announced that some retired teachers responded to the call and have agreed to return to service, but that total does not fill the shortage. The school district literally sent letters of desperation requesting for retirees to reconsider returning to the classroom. Many of them ignored the letters since the chaos that has been percolating in SDP for the last 5 to 10 years pushed many of them into early retirement in the first place.
City Council and local education advocates have stopped the plan to privatize school nurses, for the moment. The School Reform Commission continues to spend dollars in legal fees in appeals regarding the cancellation of the teachers’ contract that occurred just last year. Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are now entering the 5th year of no raises, and many classrooms remain without teachers or coverage for absences. Schools that require a foreign language and a fully functioning library to maintain their International Baccalaureate status have neither. In the midst of everything, standardized testing is still being encouraged regardless of a teacher being present to teach the Keystone required course, or not.
All of this and more are the reason that Governor Wolf must not back down. It is time for Pennsylvania to have a budget that works for the entire state. It is time for the gap in educational spending to close and for a fair full funding formula to provide more equity and fairness. It is imperative that Philadelphia City Council follows the Governor’s lead and enforces the same tax mandates in Philadelphia County for all residents and businesses including larger ones like Comcast. If we want to be great, everyone has to be willing to pull up their sleeves and get to work, and start thinking about the greater good over selfish intentions.