It's hard to argue with an independent arbitrator's recent ruling that the School Reform Commission must provide a full-time counselor for every Philadelphia school. The need is glaring and should be a priority. But putting the decision in the context of the School District's poor financial condition provides a different perspective.
It's too bad the arbitrator didn't issue his opinion until after City Council began its summer recess. Maybe the need to restore more of the 283 counselor positions vacated to save money in 2013 would have prompted Council to meet the district's request for an additional $103 million. Council budgeted only $70 million more.
Council won't reconvene until Sept. 10, which means the city schools have joined other Pennsylvania districts in shifting their attention to Harrisburg. The prognosis for relief there is guarded, with Gov. Wolf so far failing to get a Republican-dominated legislature to agree with his plan to add $1 billion to the education budget.
Republican lawmakers continue to parrot the Grover Norquist mantra that any new tax is a bad tax, ignoring polls showing that even tax-averse Pennsylvanians are willing to pay more to improve schools. The legislators refuse to connect the dots between destitute schools and the poor educational outcomes they produce.
Inadequate funding is particularly harmful in districts with large numbers of poor and special-needs students. It's hard for them to produce good results in a state with some of the most inequitably funded school districts in America. Per-pupil spending ranges from $8,660 in the coal-country town of Mount Carmel to $26,675 in the tony Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Athyn.
Philadelphia's per-pupil spending is $13,077, according to the state Department of Education, which has the district scrambling to put teachers and supplies in classrooms while laying off personnel. The district had rehired most of the dismissed counselors before the arbitrator's ruling, but some were assigned to multiple schools.
Schools need counselors to help steer students academically and sometimes emotionally. The arbitrator got that part right. But the ruling makes it more glaring that the legislature is playing politics instead of giving schools the funding they need to adequately educate the state's children.