City officials and leaders of the Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg pledged their strongest efforts Thursday to find an additional $180 million for the School District, as about 300 students marched peacefully to City Hall, asking the government to "save our schools."
Mayor Nutter joined Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos, and six members of the city's House and Senate delegations for an assembly at Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia featuring HOME, the school's acclaimed rock band.
The officials said it was essential to meet the SRC's request for $180 million in additional funding - $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state - to stop cutbacks beyond those the SRC has already imposed.
Nutter said he has had preliminary discussions with Council President Darrell L. Clarke about ways to raise the $60 million sought from the city. He specifically mentioned a boost in the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax, from 10 percent to 15 percent, and a city tax on cigarettes, on which the state already collects $1.60 a pack.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, suggested three ways the state could find money to support schools statewide: opting into the Medicaid expansion offered by Obamacare, worth $260 million to Pennsylvania in state savings and economic development; persuading the business community to delay the abolition of the state's capital stock and franchise taxes (worth $362 million); and boosting the profits of the state liquor control system by improving its operations ($100 million).
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said school systems throughout the state were facing some of the same problems as Philadelphia's, suggesting there would be Republican support for a statewide boost in school aid.
City Council has raised taxes for the schools the last two years without corresponding help from the state.
At yesterday's session, Councilman Bill Green criticized the school system's recent financial stewardship, saying it had spent temporary state and federal aid as if the funding would last in perpetuity.
Other members pleaded for more support. "We have a duty to figure this out," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown.
Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. said Green was correct that many of the district's money woes were self-inflicted or caused by state cuts, but Jones supported finding the money.
"I will not sit by and let this chamber, this administration, the governor, punish the youth for that," he said. "They were not in charge, they cannot do a budget."
Clarke ended the meeting with a rare speech from his perch above the chamber.
"This Council will step to the plate and do what needs to be done," he said. "But I've got to tell you, in a very public way, this whole notion that this Council has to continue to do it alone is getting stale."
About 300 students from several high schools weighed in with the lunchtime march, eliciting honks of support from passing cars.
"We have a voice, too, and we want to be heard," said Tenerica Calloway, a junior at Franklin Learning Center. "They're threatening art programs, music programs, extracurricular activities, everything."
"We're going to walk into school one day and see nobody but ourselves," said classmate Roneka Jones.