Rep. Smith says governor should advance Philly schools funds to open on...

Rep. Smith says governor should advance Philly schools funds to open on time

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Rep. Sam SmithAsking Gov. Tom Corbett to advance the School District of Philadelphia education funding, Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Armstrong, Indiana and Jefferson counties) and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) announced July 31 that public pension reform and a bill dealing primarily with the Philadelphia school district will be voted in September.

“We were prepared to come into session next week to vote once again for the enabling legislation for the Philadelphia schools,” Smith said. “We worked hard to reach consensus on the additional public policy questions presented in the Senate-passed version of House Bill 1177, namely expansion in hotel taxes and the city redevelopment program.

“We are working with the Senate and governor to ensure Philadelphia has the resources it needs to keep the schools open. As we work out details of the legislation, we have requested the governor advance the Philadelphia School District funds necessary to ensure schools open on time in the city.”

The hotel tax increases and City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) expansions require a more in-depth policy discussion, including House committees and the entire House, Smith said. The issues have not been vetted sufficiently in the House to get just an up-or-down vote.

“After conversations with Republican and Democratic House leadership teams, we will plan on taking up legislation dealing with education in Philadelphia when we return in September,” Turzai said. “We are focused on quality education for the children of Philadelphia which includes some new, dedicated funding and the charter application and appeal process reform. We are also focused on needed public pension reform, which for Philadelphia, skyrockets up to $193 million next year.”

According to school district officials, the enabling legislation would generate $1.6 million per week, meaning, if the cigarette tax had passed the General Assembly, been signed by the governor and fully implemented by July 1, 2014, $20.8 million would be collected for the School District of Philadelphia by the end of September. The district’s budget totals $2.8 billion, of which nearly 45 percent are state funds.

Advancing the state dollars is nothing new. In fact, the governor transferred $400 million in payments to the School District of Philadelphia earlier than scheduled from the Department of Education in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Smith and Turzai noted that last year, the General Assembly acted to lift the expiration of the 1 percent Sales and Use Tax for Philadelphia to dedicate up to $120 million of proceeds to the school district. Philadelphia City Council refused to enact the needed enabling legislation for almost a year.