Over the past five years, the funding crisis in the School District of Philadelphia has become well known to everyone in the region, as well as many people across the country. As a result of cuts in state and federal funding during the summer of 2011, the district faced a deficit in excess of $600 million for fiscal 2012. In preparing the fiscal 2013 and 2014 budgets, the School District faced gaps in excess of $300 million.
While the district has secured funding (mostly from the city) to reduce these gaps, it has been forced to lay off several thousand people and eliminate many important programs. In 2011, the total staff of the district was 23,943. In 2015, the staff had decreased to 16,833.
Children, parents, teachers, advocates, School District leaders, and local officials might disagree on many aspects of the public school system in Philadelphia, but they all agree that the declines in state and federal support have crippled the district's ability to educate our children.
Philadelphia is not the only city experiencing a funding crisis. The dramatic decrease in federal funding after the end of the stimulus program hit all urban districts across the country, and a large majority of states cut education funding during the economic crisis.
Most states in the past few years have started to slowly increase education funding. In 2015, 41 states passed budgets increasing basic education funding (Pennsylvania has recently joined them, though the extent of the increase is still not fully clear).
Major increases in support from the commonwealth are critical to the academic success of children in Philadelphia and other urban areas in the state. However, education funding is a responsibility shared by all levels of government. To examine this issue, we conducted a statistical analysis comparing education funding in Philadelphia with funding in other large cities.
Our conclusions are not surprising: Philadelphia has significantly increased its funding to local schools in recent years - support went up by almost 37 percent between 2004-05 and 2013-14.
But looking at this matter comparatively reveals some interesting insights. Other large cities have also increased their funding of schools during the past decade. New York City increased funding by almost 72 percent over the same period, Chicago 30 percent, Houston 31 percent, and Los Angeles 35 percent.
Further, when one compares the share of funding that cities spend on education as a part of their budgets, Philadelphia has one of the lowest shares of the country's largest cities. Just 13 percent of all local government spending in Philadelphia goes to schools.
In Dallas, 29 percent of local spending goes to schools, and in Chicago, 23 percent. Compared with the seven other largest cities, Philadelphia's share of local dollars spent on education ranked second to last between 2004-05 and 2012-13, and third to last in 2013-14 (because of a significant increase that year).
Put simply, among many local priorities, public education has a lower place in Philadelphia than in our peer cities. Other comparisons, for example of the share of school funding that comes from local governments, can be found in our report.
Of course, cities are different in many ways - in their economic bases, their economic climates, and the structures and responsibilities that are taken on by local government as opposed to other levels of government. Philadelphia, for example, is forced to bear criminal justice costs that many cities do not. So no comparison is perfect.
But as we continue to demand more education funding from the commonwealth, it is important to look at how we compare with our peers.
If other cities can make a commitment to fund their schools, we can as well. Every city has problems and financial difficulties. But a city's commitment to funding K-12 education is determined by the boldness and the will of its community.
Of course, Philadelphia's leaders, state delegation, and citizens should continue to lobby the state for more funding. But students need an education today and the district needs more funding now.
The city has the power to increase its funding of the school district and, if Philadelphia is truly a world-class city, it should fund its schools at levels commensurate with other major cities.
Max Weiss, a graduate of Julia R. Masterman School and a former teacher, is a third-year student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. firstname.lastname@example.org
Wendell Pritchett, a presidential professor of law and education at Penn Law, is a former member of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission. email@example.com