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Philadelphia Faces Massive Potential Funding Shortfall—Again

The Philadelphia School District unveiled a $2.49 billion operating budget for 2015 Friday that sought—at minimum—$216.2  million in additional funding to keep programs and staff at the same level as 2014, a funding level the school district admits is "wholly insufficient" to meet the needs of its students.

Without additional revenues, the district said it would have to make program and staff cuts that could "cripple"  a school system that has been starved over the years by funding cuts. Like other school districts, rising health and pension costs have added to operating costs.

The Philadelphia School District has been here before. Last year, it sought $304 million in state funding to close a budget gap, instituted mass layoffs, and almost didn't open on time before it received a lifeline from the city and state.

The district says it needs $440 million for the 2015 year to add programs and staff.  To maintain program and staff at the 2014 level, it needs the $120 million that is expected to be generated from a 1 percent sales tax that has already been approved by the state legislature but not the city council,  and an additional $96.2 million in new revenue sources, for a total of $216.2 million.

"Short of the $216 million, our schools will go from insufficient to just empty shells that do not represent what I would consider a functioning school,"  Superintendent William R. Hite said in a press release Friday.

The district painted a dark picture: increases in class sizes; cuts to transportation, nurses, special education, and school police;  and layoffs of more than 1,000 staff members, including about 810 teachers.

"These cuts will impact the students who are at the highest risk of dropping out, who face the greatest hurdles  to opportunity, and for whom an additional investment of time and resources could make the greatest  difference,"  according to a statement accompanying the 2015 budget brief.  "They will hinder superior programs at the district's highest performing schools and further deplete supports desperately needed in the district's lower performing schools. " 


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