Doesn’t Philadelphia get a huge share of state education aid already?
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made the point when he met with District Superintendent William Hite in August that the city has 12 percent of the state’s school population but receives 18 percent of the state’s basic education subsidy. But Matthew Stanski, Hite’s finance director, says that these numbers alone don’t capture the reality. He gives several reasons. First, Pennsylvania chips in a smaller share of education funding than most other states, so there is less state aid to balance out inequities between districts. But more important, he said, Philadelphia educates more children from low-income backgrounds than any other district. More than 80 percent of Philadelphia students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, almost twice the statewide average of 43 percent. Such a high concentration of poverty comes with added costs to a school district.
Students in Philadelphia returned on Sept. 8 to understaffed schools and often oversized classes, with teacher labor negotiations at a stalemate and Harrisburg still dithering over a cigarette tax to provide the District with needed funds.
Still, said Superintendent William Hite, things aren’t as bad as last year, when some schools opened with teaching staffs at bare minimum and counselors and assistant principals scarce.
In the opening weeks, Hite tried to put an optimistic face on what is shaping up as another year of uncertainty for the District.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is running for re-election against challenger Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Nov. 4.
The Notebook invited both candidates to submit a 1,000-word response answering our six questions about key education issues, with a focus on funding. The Wolf campaign submitted a response. The Corbett campaign declined the invitation to respond, but the Notebook has compiled other published statements from Corbett on these issues.
The School District, along with the city and key businesses and nonprofit groups, has embarked on a campaign to have all 4th graders proficient in reading by 2020.
Called READ by 4th, the effort is part of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which was launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and now includes more than 150 communities nationwide.