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Inquirer Editorial: Reduced to begging

Like most big cities, Philadelphia has more than its share of panhandlers, some of whom will return your kindness with a few choice words if they think you're being stingy. Others merely express their gratitude, even if they need much more.

Protesters outside Gov. Corbett's press conference in Philadelphia Wednesday.
Protesters outside Gov. Corbett's press conference in Philadelphia Wednesday.Read moreMichael Bryant / Staff Photographer

Like most big cities, Philadelphia has more than its share of panhandlers, some of whom will return your kindness with a few choice words if they think you're being stingy. Others merely express their gratitude, even if they need much more.

Apparently Gov. Corbett expects the city School District, which has been reduced to beggar status, to humbly take whatever he tosses into the hat and worry about the future later. But further delaying a long-term solution to the schools' cash problem is a terrible strategy. Nor does it address the funding woes of other school districts across the state.

The Philadelphia district has an $81 million budget gap. Corbett announced Wednesday that he will advance the district its $265 million state allocation for the coming year so that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. will be able to open the schools on time. But Hite quickly pointed out that advancing what the schools would eventually get doesn't reduce the deficit.

In a rather blatant attempt to turn attention away from the inadequacy of his plan, Corbett noted the legislature's inability to pass a Philadelphia-only cigarette tax and criticized the teachers' union for refusing contract concessions that might spur tax-averse legislators to vote for the measure.

But Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan didn't flinch from his recalcitrance. The union has gone months without relenting, and it appears unlikely that it will. Meanwhile, the governor all but admitted he has no clout with the legislature, saying he had "repeatedly urged" lawmakers to reconvene in August to no avail.

"We still need $81 million. Otherwise, we're spending money that we don't have," Hite said prior to Corbett's announcement. Unless the budget can be balanced, he said, not only will the opening of schools be postponed, but up to 1,500 employees may be laid off, swelling class sizes to more than 40 students. That's untenable in a district that is already struggling to provide a quality education.

Harrisburg needs to adequately fund schools not just in Philadelphia, but throughout Pennsylvania. Schools statewide have laid off more than 23,000 employees since 2011. More than half the state's districts expect to eliminate or reduce academic programs next year because they cannot afford them.

But if the state won't come through in time, schoolchildren shouldn't be left to suffer. Pointing out a 17 percent increase in city spending on the district over five years, City Controller Alan Butkovitz said, "Philadelphia has been doing its part." But with the city's future depending on how well it educates its children, that may not be enough.

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