Jan 30, 2024 - News

Budget gap looms over Philadelphia schools

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 

Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Philly schools superintendent Tony Watlington is arguing Tuesday that state and city officials should boost school district's funding to stave off a coming budget shortfall.

Why it matters: Without more funding, budget cuts as soon as next year could include staff.

What's happening: Watlington is laying out the district's achievements and challenges during his first State of Public Education address on Tuesday at 10am.

  • While the district has seen increases in some academic areas as well as student and teacher attendance rates, its impending budget gap of an estimated $407 million looms large.

Context: The district's pandemic funding will run out in the coming school year as it also contends with decades of underfunding from the state.

  • The district can't raise its own taxes, so the budget gap and any cuts will depend on factors including the district's surplus, plus state and city funding this year.

Threat level: School-based cuts could come as soon as the 2024-25 school year, Watlington tells Axios.

Zoom in: Watlington says his top priorities include school safety, addressing environmental issues in district buildings and academic achievement.

Between the lines: Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, has prioritized public education and pushed for funding increases last year.

Zoom out: The district is grappling with several other challenges, including falling enrollment and chronic truancy.

By the numbers: Watlington says the district made strides in several areas last year compared to 2021-22, including:

  • Student attendance — up from 57% to 60%.
  • The four-year graduation rate — up from 71% to 74%.
  • The teacher attendance rate — up from 77% to 84%.

Meanwhile, high school proficiency rates on state standardized tests fell in Algebra 1 and Biology.

What they're saying: Watlington says the district is "worthy of the additional investment" from the state and city because of recent academic and credit rating improvements.

  • "Until we are funded appropriately, we cannot upgrade our school facilities to 21st-century standards," he said.
  • Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder tells Axios the governor will continue to prioritize public education funding in the upcoming budget, but provided no further details.

What to watch: Shapiro's budget address is Feb. 6.

  • Philly school officials unveil their budget in the spring.

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