When it comes to the School District of Philadelphia, a lot of numbers get thrown around. $440 million requested. $216 million to keep the status quo. $120 million sales tax. With all these large numbers, it’s not hard to lose sight of what they mean for our children. These are not just figures causing unbalance on the District’s ledger; they are teachers, nurses and principals. Put simply, if the District does not get the money it needs, students will see dramatically larger classes in more dangerous schools lacking art, music, libraries and afterschool sports and clubs.
But if it does get the money it needs—all $440 million requested—the District would also look very different. PCCY crunched the numbers and found that with that amount of money, every school could have a librarian, a counselor and a nurse, and where the schools are larger, more than one. Instead of avoiding layoffs of teachers, every school could have an art and a music teacher and the District could hire an additional 550 classroom teachers and 350 special education teachers, cutting its swollen classes and ensuring all students receive enough quality attention to learn. Violent incidents would drop because the District could add 50 assistant principals to our larger schools, increase noontime aides by 100 and hire 50 more security staff along with 50 conflict resolution specialists. Extracurricular activities like sports and clubs that had been cut down in recent years could be dramatically expanded.
If $440 million represents a fully funded district, $216 million is the threshold for not getting worse. If the District does not receive an additional $216 million, 1,000 teaching and support positions will be eliminated. That’s not just hundreds and hundreds of teachers receiving layoffs, but nurses, school police and special education support staff. High school classes will be 25% larger, with more than 40 students per classroom. Middle school classes will also hit the 40-student mark and elementary school classes will jump to 37 students per classroom. “The $216 million is a floor that buys only what the district has right now,” the Inquirer reported, “[Superintendent Hite] is requesting $440 million to improve the schools’ bare-bones conditions. The current level of funding does not allow for counselors or nurses in every building or adequate supplies.”
Most people will never face a nine-figure budget, so the human cost of the District’s budget deficit can get lost in the scale. This past year has shown just how tough things have gotten for Philadelphia students, going to overfilled classes everyday in understaffed buildings, often without a nurse available to treat them. The District needs the city to act just to maintain that status quo. Approving the sales tax extension would go a long way to that. But it is going to take much, much more—from the city, the state and others—to see an actual improvement. For students in the Philadelphia School District, $440 million is not just some hypothetical budget goal. It’s hope for a better education.