House inaction: Philly students are left waiting for a funding source

The Sept. 8 opening of Philadelphia’s schools is now in jeopardy

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The Philadelphia school system, the largest in the state, is facing a massive $81 million shortfall that must be addressed before layoff notices for some of its 17,000 employees go out on Aug. 15. The Republican-controlled state House is not helping matters by delaying action.

In June, Philadelphia appealed to the Legislature to let the city impose a $2-a-pack cigarette tax when it approved the state budget. The Senate passed the proposal in July, leaving it to the House to vote on it during a session in August. If approved, the tax could mean $70 million to $90 million annually, enough to put the district’s 200-plus schools and 137,000 students on solid financial footing.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s predicament hasn’t generated the sense of urgency in the House that it deserves. On Thursday, Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai said that because the House could not reach a consensus on the cigarette tax and a proposed hotel tax, it would hold off voting until September. That puts the Sept. 8 opening of Philadelphia’s schools in jeopardy. Now the district must decide if it should shorten the academic year, postpone the first day of school and cut spending on transportation — and this on top of teacher layoffs and cutbacks in school police.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Turzai asked the governor to transfer funds to the district early, but what Philadelphia needs is House approval for a higher cigarette tax. Like Congress, the chamber left for the summer with its work undone. In this case, it’s Pennsylvania children who are left in the lurch.

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