Urge ongoing, united effort to solve public education’s funding crisis
As the daunting shadow of more teacher layoffs and larger class sizes stretches over the School District of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams last week lauded the efforts of supporters who have stepped up to fight to make sure the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett approve Williams’ proposal for an annual, dedicated new funding stream.
Sen. Williams proposed the $2-per-pack cigarette tax June 7, 2013, under Senate Bill 944. Last week, he converted his idea to an amendment and attached it to House Bill 1177, which the Senate overwhelmingly approved, 38-12, and the House amended and approved Wednesday evening.
“We have more work to do to make sure the Senate affirms the modified version of the bill that the House finally approved last week, but that confirmation could come in the next 24 hours,” Williams said during a press conference.
“I am grateful that so many people got behind my proposal to levy this cigarette tax. We needed their passion and commitment to help keep lawmakers focused on the reasons the school children of the Philadelphia School District need this,” the Senate whip said. “As we have heard so many times during the World Cup, I believe that we will win. I believe our school district will win. And, most importantly, I believe our children will win.”
As supporters of Sen. Williams’ $2 per pack cigarette tax posted messages of support on social media, local and state officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, pressed the need for passage of the senator’s bill in Harrisburg.
Should the Senate confirm the changes made to HB 1177 and the governor approve it, the $2 per pack cigarette tax would generate as much as $45 million this year for the School District of Philadelphia and $83 million during its first full year.
Coupled with the one-percent increase in the local sales tax, Williams said Philadelphia officials have worked together to secure two new major sources of funding for school children.
“These are important victories in the fight for full funding for public schools in our city, but let’s be clear – while these taxes are authorized by the commonwealth, they are really additional city tax dollars that are being directed to schools. And the burden to pay for public education continues to fall more on city residents,” the senator said.
“When will the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania meet its constitutional and moral obligation to provide more state funding for Philadelphia’s public schools?” Williams asked. “No real solution for the schools’ problems will ever occur until Harrisburg steps up to the plate – and that means having a governor who understands that public education must be the top priority in Pennsylvania.”
Sen. Williams again thanked Republican House Leader Mike Turzai and Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph; Democratic state Reps. Bill Keller, Cherelle Parker, and Jordan Harris; Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, and Democratic state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Vince Hughes, the Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee chairman.
Williams also praised the efforts of City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Bill Greenlee.
The overwhelming spirit of cooperation in the city and throughout the Philly legislative delegation, Williams said, is key to solving public education’s funding problems.
“Legislators don’t agree on many things, but I promise you that they all agree on this much: When the city isn’t united, when we don’t speak with one voice in Harrisburg, it’s easy for legislators from other parts of Pennsylvania to simply ignore us,” Sen. Williams said. “Regardless of any political differences we may have, we have to commit to developing consensus about the funding priorities we seek from the governor and the legislature.”