National Edition

Philadelphia scrambles to find funds as schools teeter on the edge

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 11:05 p.m. MDT

But skeptics say that shifting funds would paper over a systemic problem.

Philadelphia’s school district is in fiscal crisis most years, notes Hess. Indeed, for each of the past few years the district has faced deficits larger than $200 million. And in 2006, a boom year with strong tax revenue, the district still managed a $73 million budget gap.

“The idea that another $100 million or $200 million is going to transform a persistently low-performing, dysfunctional district confuses cause and effect,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, noting that the city spends between $14,000 and $15,000 per pupil, in line with national norms. “The real problem is unaffordable contracts and benefit obligations.”

“Philadelphia school teachers don’t contribute anything to their health care,” said Abraham. “This is a crisis that has been building up for many years, and the district has been poorly managed for a long time.”

The district is so poorly managed, Abraham said, that in 2001 the district was essentially put into receivership, with its elected school board replaced by state officials and the entire district governed from the state capital under the so-called School Reform Commission.

But the SRC has made little progress in the intervening 12 years, in large part, according to critics, because hiring, benefits and salaries are so rigid — and so generous.


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