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Millions in State Aid to Philadelphia Depend on Teachers' Contract

Millions of dollars in state aid hangs in the balance as contract negotiations between the teachers' union and school district in Philadelphia continue.

State budget spokesman Charles Zogby reiterated that the district's agreement with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will determine whether it gets state funds to help resolve its budget crisis, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The Philadelphia school district is facing budget difficulties so dramatic that superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., said early last month that school might not be able to open without additional funds. The City of Philadelphia committed to provide enough money to open schools, though just where those funds comes from has yet to be determined. But the district is also counting on $103 million in concessions from its union, an AFT affiliate, and on millions in state funds and from a state-approved citywide sales tax in order to fully staff and support schools.

Philadelphia's contract with its teachers expired at the end of August. The district's teachers have agreed to some health care changes and to receive no raise next year, but the district says that such changes are not sufficient. It is hoping to implement pay cuts and changes in work rules that would allow, for instance, teachers to be hired in schools without regard for seniority. Though both sides report that they've made progress, negotiations are ongoing and remain contentious.

Meanwhile, as Zogby reiterated, the so-called "rescue package" the state of Pennsylvania provided is dependent on the outcome of the agreement: Both $45 million in one-time funds and $120 million in recurring funds from the new citywide sales tax require the district to make unspecified but significant changes to its teachers' contract.

From the Inquirer:

[Republican governor Tom] Corbett's budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said last week, "It's understood the PFT agreement is the key piece" in releasing the $45 million, but he wouldn't say what concessions would be considered sufficient reform.

"I don't think anyone should assume that just any agreement is going to unlock those dollars," Zogby said. "Investing this money is one thing, but there has to be a belief in what we're buying."

As for the $120 million, he said the reform language was included because "one could envision a scenario of one year and then it all goes away."

That pressure from the state has raised hackles in Philadelphia, especially as the Pennsylvania governor has fired two education secretaries in recent months, and his most recent appointee, Carolyn Dumaresq, has already garnered criticism for failing to report all of her income on financial disclosure forms. The state's education secretary is responsible for determining what reforms are sufficient.

Despite all this uncertainty, the district is still on target to open on September 9, said Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the 136,000-student district.

Philadelphia teachers returned to school today, many of them mourning colleagues who had been laid off, the Associated Press reports. The budget back-and-forth and sense that things have been getting worse each year have led some parents to consider homeschooling or charter schools, according to the AP. For more on the factors that led to the district's crisis, check out this Education Week article.

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