The financial state of the School District of Philadelphia has for a long time gone beyond criminal. Recently the state government has passed (sort of passed, since the tobacco lobby influenced the proceedings) a cigarette tax that would apply only to the city of Philadelphia. Have we really reached the point where the only funding for schools is derived from a ‘sin’ tax? I have little problem with raising that tax, mostly because it may help some people quit smoking, but it is hard to reconcile that benefit with the fact that the tax is a regressive one that will damage both small and large businesses that derive income from the sale of cigarettes. I will, for now, not get into the larger ethical question of cigarette sales or whether cigarettes should simply be labeled as a dangerous controlled substance and banned outright.
What has been interesting is noting the contortions of the SRC through this whole miasma. It seems to me that the SRC has simply been an ineffective engineer on a runaway train. What seems to be missing is courage and integrity in standing up for the students of Philadelphia and demanding full and fair funding. If that is not the purview of the SRC then why would it continue to exist? Dr. Hite seems like a reasonably sane superintendent with a background in education that could serve him and the students well, but courage and integrity are important in his position as well. The SRC is staffed with political appointees – I am not sure about the latest appointee – the former principal at Masterman. Perhaps she will serve the students better, but time will tell on that front. Bill Green has had little to say recently – as an appointee of Governor (one term) Corbett, Green should be the loudest voice representing the needs of children. He is certainly not that.
It is time for the SRC and Dr. Hite to employ the courage and integrity that they should possess. I would prefer the Hornbeck solution. School should be scheduled in the fall to be run at full staffing and funding levels. Proposals are abundant about how that funding could be achieved (shale tax and a completely new funding formula for all public schools in the commonwealth are two of those proposals). The SRC and Dr. Hite need to proclaim that schools will be open until funding runs out and if the state does not move on new funding proposals then the entire SRC and Dr. Hite should tender their resignations at that point. Is this a radical suggestion? Yes. Is this a practical suggestion? Probably not. It just seems that it is time for the people designated as leaders to step up, exhibit courage and integrity and do the right thing, instead of the political thing.