FUMO URGES CITY NOT TO DROP SCHOOL FUNDING LAWSUIT
The city had imposed a one-year moratorium on the lawsuit under a previous agreement with Governor Tom Ridge, but that moratorium will end next month. According to reports published last week, the Ridge Administration is asking the city and the other plaintiffs to drop the suit.
In his letter, Fumo (D-Philadelphia) pointed out that when other states have taken steps toward equitable funding for poor districts, it has usually been at the insistence of the courts.
In light of the large financial deficit that the school district says it faces next year, Fumo also advised Mayor Street and President Ramos to allow Ridge to use the school takeover law that he signed in 1998. The law gives the governor the authority to take over the district if it adopts a budget that would not permit schools to remain open for a full academic year.
A copy of the letter follows.
(Mailed on Sen. Fumo Letterhead)
May 29, 2001
The Honorable John Street
Dear Mayor Street,
I recently read that the Ridge Administration has asked you and School Board President Pedro Ramos to drop the city's federal racial discrimination lawsuit concerning public school funding. I strongly urge you to continue the suit.
As you consider your response to the governor's request, you should keep in mind that throughout the United States, the most effective solutions to the under-funding of poor and urban school districts have come from the court system. Prodding by the judiciary has usually been necessary to force politicians in the legislative and executive branches to act.
Regrettably, the Pennsylvania courts have not had the courage to take this step, so the federal courts appear to be the only place where this dispute can be resolved. (I can tell you that given the current make-up of the state Legislature, the Republicans in control are not inclined to provide a meaningful long-term solution.)
The governor has attempted to portray himself as a partner with you in addressing the financial plight of the district, and has declared that you should not call your "partner" a racist. While I do not believe that the governor and legislative leaders are motivated purely by racism in their failure to come to the aid of the Philadelphia School District, I do believe that they lack the fortitude to confront a political problem--equitable school funding statewide--that has negative consequences for Philadelphia's minority public school children, as well as for the city as a whole. You should not be deterred by fears that you will offend officials in the Capitol by pursuing a racial discrimination lawsuit. You are not calling the governor and legislative leaders racists on personal level when you implore the court to correct a long-standing systemic funding problem.
As for the notion that the governor has become a partner with the Philadelphia School District, I'm sure you will agree that the governor did virtually nothing during his first five years in office to alleviate the district's financial problems. In fact, he made things worse by halting the equity initiatives begun during the Casey Administration, thus allowing more state funding to drift to wealthy suburban districts and away from Philadelphia. Only recently has he even proposed $66 million in extra funding for Philadelphia, which the school board says falls far short of meeting the district's needs. I think this is a partnership of convenience for the Ridge Administration, one which allows the governor to avoid dealing with a difficult political issue while still appearing to help.
I also recommend that the city and the school board stop asking Harrisburg for modest increases in aid, which merely serve to delay a permanent answer to the perennial issue of fair school funding in Pennsylvania. While we wait for the federal courts to decide the matter, you should simply allow the governor to act. He and Republican legislative leaders sought the authority to take over the Philadelphia School District if and when the school board determined that it did not have the resources to keep the schools open. Facing another large financial deficit, you should allow the Ridge Administration to use that authority. If the governor is convinced that Philadelphia does not need more state aid in order to operate its schools, then he should be permitted to draw up his own budget and put his educational and managerial ideas into practice.
VINCENT J. FUMO
All Members of Philadelphia School Board
Philip R. Goldsmith, CEO, Philadelphia School District