Over the past year and a half, Philly has seen unparalleled and convergent crises: the pandemic and its economic fallout, and a gun violence epidemic that has deeply impacted young people of color in this city. But as we begin paving the road to recovery, city government has not yet prioritized the futures of young people.

As key members of the Community College of Philadelphia community — both staff and student — we know investments in CCP are vital to our recovery. CCP is an institution for working-class Philadelphians, primarily Black, brown, and immigrant. Much of our student body comes from the neighborhoods that have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, by gun violence, by decades of disinvestment. CCP is a major vehicle for many young Philadelphians entering the city’s workforce, with 93% of graduates going on to work in the Philly metro area. Our ability to thrive as a city is only possible when our young people also have the ability and resources to learn and thrive.

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Yet, in the mayor’s proposed budget for the year, CCP is still not getting the full investment it needs to provide for all Philadelphians. This year’s budget allocation to CCP falls $13.5 million short of the city’s contractual funding obligation to share one-third of the funding, with the other thirds paid by the state and by students. When the city and the state fail to fund their share of CCP, it is our students who pay, often taking out costly student loans. Over the last 20 years, the city alone has shifted over $325 million in operating costs onto students.

The administration’s investment in the Catto Scholarship represents a vital move toward free CCP for all Philadelphians — but the emphasis on only providing funding to students able to go full time means that the vast majority of CCP students will be ineligible for funding. By the city’s own numbers, only 4% of CCP students annually will receive the Catto Scholarship resources.

If our city wants to get serious about a just recovery from the pandemic, we should make CCP free for all Philadelphians, lifting the burden of student debt and investing in our young peoples’ futures. Yet, the proposed tax cuts to the BIRT, wage, and parking taxes from Mayor Jim Kenney and some members of City Council instead threaten the long-term future of CCP and other public institutions. Tax cuts and revenue slashes threaten the viability of public services and institutions. The only “trickle-down” effect that the CCP community experiences from tax cuts like this are students being forced to carry more of the burden of tuition, meaning loan corporations profit.

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Collectively, these proposed cuts will reduce funding levels by a projected $473 million over the next five years. This means less funding for critical services that our young people rely on as pathways toward success. If we are serious about the future of our economy, we need to invest in our people. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, the mayor’s office and City Council should chart a vision for free CCP for all Philadelphians by demanding corporations, universities like Penn and Drexel, and billionaires pay their fair share of taxes.

Our budgets are a reflection of our city’s priorities — and with unprecedented federal relief money, we can choose to invest in what matters. Will we invest in our young peoples’ futures? Or will we continue to allow corporations to maximize their profits while low–income Philadelphians are left to fend for themselves, taking on student debt while our public services falter? This is an opportunity to reimagine our local economy, and our elected officials must center the young people who will steer us toward an equitable future.

Ahmad Mitchell is president of the Student Government Association of Community College of Philadelphia and a student at CCP studying culinary arts. Jamie Zigarelli is the treasurer of AFT Local 2026, the Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia, and is an assistant professor of English.