Gov. Wolf's budget proposal would be very good for the Philadelphia schools.
His plan calls for a nearly $160 million increase in state funds that would more than wipe out the district's projected $80 million deficit.
"I'm elated with his proposed increases in revenue," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said. "I think that it not only helps Philadelphia, but it helps all of the public-school children across the commonwealth."
The governor's $30 billion spending plan would boost basic education funds for Philadelphia by $142 million and add $17.4 million for special-education services.
Those proposals would translate into a 13.8 percent increase in state funds for a 130,000-student, cash-strapped district that has closed schools, laid off staff, and slashed budgets for books and supplies.
The district had asked for $206 million in new recurring revenue from the state to fully restore cuts and begin to execute Hite's action plan.
Still, the proposed $159 million more in basic and special-education funding for Philadelphia is much higher than Hite said the district anticipated.
"We can begin talking about the elimination of that deficit, but in addition, we can begin talking about investments in the things that are critically important to provide all of our students with a quality education," he said, adding that serious conversations about restoring things like nurses, counselors, and adequate books could now begin.
Restoration of partial charter reimbursements and changing the cyber charter payment structure would also bring relief to the district, which pays for 64,000 city students who attend charters.
Wolf's plan calls for reimbursing districts for 10 percent of their charter costs. For Philadelphia, which is spending $767 million on charters this academic year, that would mean an extra $76.7 million.
The elimination of the state's 30 percent reimbursement program in 2011 has cost Philadelphia $100 million a year.
Wolf's spending blueprint would also save the district $24.7 million in payments to cyber schools by setting tuition at $5,950 for each student at one of the state's 14 cyber charters - no matter where they live.
Cybers, which provide online instruction to students in their homes, now collect the same tuition as charters with buildings.
And because the rate is based on how much a student's home district spends to educate its students, cybers receive funding at 500 different rates. Philadelphia spends $7,996 for each cyber student in regular classes and $23,073 for each special-education student.
Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth and a former top aide to Gov. Ed Rendell, called Wolf's plan "a great budget for kids."
And while the proposed $160 million increase in state funds for the district looks like a sizable number, she said it's important to keep in perspective the massive cuts that districts on the whole and Philadelphia in particular have absorbed over the last four years.
"Everybody should keep in mind that this doesn't make anybody whole from the 2011 cuts," Cooper said. "There's still a long way to go. I would hope the legislature understands they're still in the process of repairing the damage."
The cyber payment change will also help districts, Cooper said.
"Hopefully enough legislators share the governor's frustration about the scandals that have occurred with cyber charters, the lack of accountability, and certainly the poor performance of cyber charter schools, that this should have a strong chance of passing," she said.
None of the cybers meets state academic standards.
Wolf will have a tough time getting his budget passed, Cooper said, but lawmakers know where the electorate stands on education.
"The opening salvos are always going to be the harshest, but they all know why Tom Corbett lost," she said.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools blasted Wolf's budget, calling it "a blatant first step in killing charter-school options at the expense of children."
The statewide charter group took special aim at the governor's proposed new rate for cybers.
"The governor seeks to provide a single student allotment for cyber charter school students across the commonwealth," the coalition said. "But the concept is based on grossly inaccurate comparative data and unilaterally proposes to redefine basic education funding for one type of public school, absent the hard work, public input, and guidance from the General Assembly's Basic Education Funding Commission."
Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania - a nonpartisan advocate for public education - called the budget a "fair shake, as opposed to a great shake," for Philadelphia. That is, given the cuts that the district has suffered, it's starting below zero, not at zero.
"The governor is really trying to make a significant payment on the funds that have been lost, and to actually put money back in the classroom," Gobreski said. "I think that Philadelphia has been in terrible, dire circumstances, so to have a governor that's willing to tackle this issue is really a good thing."