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Lt. Gov. Candidate Mike Stack and Rep. Ron Waters (D-191) at City Council discuss school funding.

Lt. Gov. Candidate Mike Stack and Rep. Ron Waters (D-191) at City Council discuss school funding.

Philadelphia Legislators Decry Delay
J.Smith/El Hispano
Philadelphia – With a looming likelihood of hundreds of layoffs, delayed openings and further swelling classrooms, Mayor Michael Nutter, Public Schools Superintendent William Hite and a coterie of Philadelphia – area State Senators met in City Council chambers, Wednesday, looking to give impetus and a sense of urgency to pending legislation that would enable Philadelphia to tax local cigarettes sales. The $2 tax is expected to generate up to $83 million annually to cover a shortfall in the public school budget..
“Talk is cheap, we need action and action for years to come,” said State Sen. Michael Stack, a candidate for Lt. Governor, expressing the need for a “long-term” funding formula for public schools, a sentiment echoed by Senate colleagues, Sens. Anthony H. Williams and Vince Hughes.
After referring to a sister who teaches in the Philadelphia Public Schools and mother who was once a member of the Philadelphia School Board, Sen Stack denounced a process that compels Mayor Nutter and generations of earlier mayors to go to Harrisburg, “hat-in-hand to beg” for funds..
“It’s irresponsible,” declared Sen. Stack, who then called for “dedicated funding. We have to say, ‘here is what we need to run our schools in a way that gives our kids a fair shot.’”
Meanwhile, a Republican House leadership, that had initially indicated its intention of bringing a proposed $2 per-pack cigarette tax to a vote on August 4th, was again scuttling a scheduled vote on the measure to bolster the finances of Philadelphia schools..
Calling the delay “devastating” an exasperated Mayor Nutter said it was “crystal clear” what needs to occur: “The legislation is sitting in the House and needs action taken. This House needs to come back: One hour, one day and one vote.”
Reflecting on the demoralizing impact on teachers and students of such financial uncertainty, Superintendent of Schools William Hite raised concerns about a resulting “skills gap.”
Echoing Sen. Stack, the Superintendent urged developing a funding system with consistent level of “resources” that are available to the district ‘regardless of income or zip code.”
Both Mr. Hite and Mayor Nutter also argued that the district is operating with “more efficiency,” citing a reduction of 5,000 employees, reduced costs, closed schools and obtaining labor concessions as evidence of the improved fiscal stewardship.
While rebuking the Republican leadership’s decision to delay a vote as an “embarrassment,’ PA Senator Larry Farnese said, “they don’t understand, we’re not talking about their money.”
“It’s easy to bash Philadelphia,” noted Sen. John Wozniak (D-Johnstown), who proceeded to deride his colleagues in the Assembly who insist that Philadelphia “tighten its belt.”
“If you want to reduce crime, you want to reduce violence, you want to reduce drug dependencies,” then support education and the cigarette tax, said Sen. Wozniak..
With industry leaders like Comcast and others making Philadelphia an “economic engine” for the rest of Pennsylvania, Sen. Stack argued it was essential to provide sufficient educational resources for the city’s schools. Otherwise, he said, “we’re not putting them in a position where they’re likely to succeed.”

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