Staff attorney Michael Churchill testified on May 29 to the School Reform Commission on the adoption of the 2014-15 School District of Philadelphia budget, urging City Council and the state government to provide the funding that the District needs, and which the current budget proposal does not provide.

He said that “it is time to stop pointing fingers at Philadelphia taxpayers who are paying above the state median in school taxes,” and he invited Governor Corbett to come to Philadelphia and explain why “our students should have $3,000 less to support their education than in neighboring districts.

Michael Churchill’s full comments:

This is a sad day for the City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania. For today the School District of Philadelphia is about to adopt a totally insufficient budget: instead of uplifting children and providing them new opportunities for advancement it provides them inadequate books and supplies, and little hope of enough adult support to gain the experiences and skills they need to become the productive and creative people they wish and need to be. This budget means more parents who have choices will decide not to risk their children’s future to a system with insufficient nurses, counselors, tutors, and teachers, and little if any of the music, art, debate teams and sports which give such joy and teach so much. This budget offers an unimaginable vision of 2015, so grim and dour, the doppelganger to what the SRC asked us to imagine for 2014.

The blame for this doppelganger budget lies firmly with the only two bodies who can solve this problem—not the SRC, but the City Council and the state government, both the General Assembly and the Governor. These public officials have betrayed their duty to the children of this City—to provide them an education which at least meets state standards and gives them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as adults in a very competitive world.

How do I know these officials are to blame, that it is the fault of insufficient money and not profligate waste by the SRC?

All I have to do is look around at what others spend to educate their children, to know that Philadelphia’s children are being short changed, and punished for where they live and who they are. If you look at the four surrounding counties, the average district a year ago spent $17,593 per student, but Philadelphia had only $14,400 for its students, or $3,100 less per student. In terms of the overall budget that meant Philadelphia would need $630 million more just to equal the average, even though everyone knows that Philadelphia has more students with high cost needs—English language learners, homeless students, and students in poverty—than in the suburban districts. The real gap, therefore, was much higher. And in the year that has gone by the gap has grown even greater. Yet our students have to pass the same graduation exams and compete for the same jobs and college seats.

The SRC is not asking for that “more than $630 million” in this budget, but only $225 million in new dollars ($150 from the state and $75 from the City) plus the $120 million it asked for from the City last year. It needs $95 million new dollars just to stay in the same place as this disastrous last year and the rest is for some modest restoration of the cuts it was forced to make. Everyone who hates this budget and what it is doing to our schools and children must turn to our politicians and demand they provide this minimum amount necessary.

If Governor Corbett and the leaders of the General Assembly, who cut funding to Philadelphia by over $300 million dollars three years ago, think money is being wasted here they should seek to remove their appointees to the SRC for gross negligence. If not, it is their responsibility to fund what is needed. It is time to stop pointing fingers at teachers and principals who, as Chairman Green told City Council, held the district together this year and who are paid less than their suburban counterparts. And it is time to stop pointing their fingers at Philadelphia taxpayers who are paying above the state median in school taxes.

I am asking the SRC to invite Governor Corbett to come to this room and explain to us why our students should have $3,000 less to support their education than in neighboring districts and how this walking death budget is fair to the City’s 200,000 students. In the meantime, I urge every parent to demand that Harrisburg provide the funding needed so that our schools can be fully staffed and Philadelphia students have an opportunity to succeed equal to that of other students.