As financial problems plague the Philadelphia city public school system and politicians at the state level cast blame, the specter of federal stimulus has come to bear.
At the end of last week, parents and students across Philadelphia County were relieved to hear classes would not start later because of an $81 million budget shortfall, as school officials discussed. Instead, schools will open as planned Sept. 8 but at severely reduced capacity.
Though the fiscal problem this year appears to show a lack of immediate funding, the problem lies in how the school district structured its large influx of cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a hallmark of Barack Obama’s early presidency. That is borne out by the subsequent cuts in the state’s funding, which have now put Philadelphia schools in a bind.
From 2009-11, Pennsylvania got more than $1.3 billion in federal stimulus dollars toward education, almost half going directly to the Philadelphia School District. According to the state treasurer’s office, the district received $435 million in federal stimulus for education in those two years.
At the end of 2011, once the stimulus funds were all but gone, the school district received $11 million in federal grants as a result of the “Race to the Top” program, an initiative to empower local schools to meet federal standards in student achievement.
As funding increased, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell decided to cut back the state’s allocation to education funding by $350 million, allowing nearly $650 million in federal money to fill the gap.
The result was a complete warping of educational funding; state contributions fell but the overall amount schools received in those years went up, as the Pennsylvania Independent reported.
With such plentiful taps of federal money poured in over the years, it’s no wonder budget problems have appeared now that the money has run dry.
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