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Standoff in Pa. Continues as $45M for Philly Schools Still Frozen

Tension between the Philadelphia school district and Pennsylvania state officials continues to grow, with Gov. Tom Corbett's office telling city school leaders that $45 million in state funds that lawmakers earmarked for the district won't actually be handed over unless the city's teachers' union agrees to significant financial concessions.

The root of this flare-up between city and state officials is the $304 million deficit the school system has been facing as it prepares for the 2013-14 academic year. As my colleague Jackie Zubrzycki has reported on the District Dossier blog, Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite has been making desperate pleas for additional funding, without which Hite said the district may not open schools on time (the first day of schools is scheduled to be Sept. 9). Hite is also seeking $50 million from the city to erase the shortfall and rehire support staff in schools—as of now, $112 million has been found to help make up that larger deficit for the system, which has 136,000 students enrolled.

Hite is also enlisting all the support he can find: He re-tweeted this message from state Sen. Anthony Williams, a Democrat from Philadelphia urging the city council to provide the $50 million the superintendent says is crucial to on-time school openings:

Williams, by the way, is a big proponent of school choice, as you can see in the video below:

But where do Corbett, a Republican, and state government come in? The $45 million, the source of which is a loan the state was to pay back to the federal government but which is now anticipated to be forgiven by Uncle Sam, is slated for Philly schools, but comes with a significant string attached. Corbett's budget secretary, Charles Zogby, explained that Philadelphia can draw down the money only after the city teachers' union signs a contract that creates significant "fiscal savings and academic reforms."

"The law is clear," Corbett said, according to the Inquirer piece. "Until that takes place, there can be no release of funds."

Union officials claim the money is unfairly being held hostage in exchange for reforms that won't actually help students—and that Corbett's definition of "fiscal savings and academic reforms" is too narrow. City officials sent the state a list of reforms and savings they have implemented in recent years, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook reports. Some are also criticizing Hite's leadership of the school system. And it's worth noting the larger, state context for Philadelphia's budget problems: The state's education budget has been cut significantly throughout the country's recent economic woes and Corbett's administration, and that's hit poor districts hard.

Zubrzycki will dig into some of the bigger issues underlying this budget crisis and how it's affecting kids and teachers in Education Week in the coming days.

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