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Council OKs Borrowing Nearly $57 Million to Help Philadelphia's Schools

For weeks, Philadelphia school officials begged the city council to leave no money on the table when it comes to funding the schools.

On Thursday, the council responded by voting to approve additional funds to help the financially struggling district chip away at a $216 million deficit in its $2.49 billion operating budget.  

The legislative body authorized borrowing  $27 million on the district's behalf for the 2014 school year and another $30 million, which will be considered in September, for fiscal year 2015.

Things are already looking a little less bleak for a district that had been considering "every option," including opening schools later and closing them earlier because it did not have enough money to "wholly" educate its students.

 The council's actions this week allow the district to postpone any immediate layoffs that had been projected as one consequence of the deficit, Superintendent William R. Hite told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"It closes the gap pretty significantly," he told the paper.  

But the schools still need  $96 million. And that money  would only maintain the services that were available last year—after another round of severe budget cuts had significantly reduced the number of counselors, nurses, and programs.

Still,  after weeks of intense pressure that included plaintive requests, protests, letter-writing, and a near nonstop, unofficial fund-Philly's-schools' tour by Hite, parents, students, teachers, and education advocates, the superintendent appeared grateful on Thursday.

"This is great news for the children of Philadelphia," Hite said in a statement after the vote. "Council President Darrell Clarke and all council members demonstrated, in the most palpable way, their commitment to children and the future of Philadelphia. We are extremely grateful for their leadership.

"While we continue to look for every source of additional revenue, we appreciate the City Council's steps to help ensure that young Philadelphians will have access to quality instruction, resources and support," he added. "Our crisis demands urgent actions and we are thrilled that the City Council responded in kind."

The loan would be repaid with funds generated from the extension of the city's 1 percent sales tax, which the council passed this month.

Now, all eyes turn to the state Capitol, in Harrisburg, where a budget must be passed by June 30. Philadelphia school supporters are hoping that the state will agree to let the city council pass a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to fund the schools. They are also hoping the state will contribute.

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