Pa. House to vote on $45 million for Philly’s schools

    After just leaving Harrisburg, Pennsylvania House members are scheduled to return from their summer break Monday to vote on legislation that would direct $45 million to Philadelphia’s cash-strapped schools.

    The school funds are a small part of a bill known as as the “fiscal code,” which has stalled because of an unrelated disagreement over payday lending. 

    In early July, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he expected the House to pass the legislation. If that happens, the money will not immediately go into the Philadelphia school district’s coffers.

    The one-time infusion of $45 million, which is part of Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to help fill the Philadelphia school district’s budget gap, comes from the federal government apparently forgiving a debt that the state owed. Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen, who has played a key role in the negotiations on Philly’s schools, told the Inquirer that there was a “handshake on the phone” with the federal government over the years-old debt.

    Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said “negotiations have not been finalized,” however. He declined to elaborate on what work remains unfinished.

    Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson said there is likely paperwork that still needs to be completed.

    “We have no reason to think things won’t work out,” Arneson said. “But when you have the federal government, the state government, and a boatload of lawyers involved, things rarely move quickly.”

    The $45 million in state funding also comes with strings attached. The legislation requires Pennsylvania’s education secretary to determine that the Philadelphia school district has put reforms into effect that “provide for the district’s fiscal stability, education improvement and operational control” before the money is released.

    Some Philadelphia House Democrats were initially concerned that the “strings” were anti-labor. Teachers’ union president Jerry Jordan later determined that the legal language will not affect collective bargaining. His union’s contract expires Aug. 31. The district is asking for $133 million in labor concessions, mostly from the teachers union.

    Corbett’s funding package for Philadelphia’s schools would raise about $127 million from the city, state and borrowing, though some parts of his plan must still fall into place. His package falls short of the requested $180 million in combined city and state funds, which school district officials said they needed in order to plug a $304 million budget gap. 

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