VIDEO: School funding protesters interrupt City Council hearing
City Council returned Thursday for its first hearing this legislative session – and so did protesters calling for more funding for Philadelphia’s struggling public schools.
Advocates with Fight for Philly and the Philadelphia Coalition of Public Schools interrupted the Council session with an impromptu mic check.
Standing in the back of chambers, protesters waved signs and chanted, “Our children are our future – fund our schools!” and “$50 million is not enough – charity is no substitution for full funding!”
The latter statement was a shot at a plan announced earlier this week by Mayor Michael Nutter under which the city would partner with private organizations to raise money for school supplies, essentially crowdfunding the shortfall.
After several minutes of chaos, the protesters marched out, chanting “We’ll be back!”
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who stood in for Council President Darrell Clarke after he had to leave the hearing early, replied from the podium, “Don’t forget to stop up at the governor’s mansion.”
The rally came despite the fact several Council members brought forth proposals related to the School District budget crisis.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, on behalf of Clarke, introduced legislation announced earlier this week under which the city would give the School District $50 million in exchange for shuttered properties, which the city would then sell.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown called for hearings to investigate the efficiency of collections of the School Income Tax, while Councilman Kenyatta Johnson called for investigation into the School District’s transition plan following the closing last year of 24 city schools.
But the proposals that sparked the most debate Thursday came from Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., who took aim at the city’s 10-year property tax abatement on newly-constructed or improved properties.
Goode last year introduced a bill capping the abatement amount at $500,000 and reducing it during the final five years by 20 percent annually.
As a portion of Philadelphia’s property taxes go to fund city schools, the legislation would release more revenue.
Goode has several times claimed the tax break benefits largely the “new, few and well-to-do,” while developers and realtor organizations contend it draws much-needed development and new residents to the city, broadening its tax base.
But that proposal was tabled Thursday, as there were not enough votes for it to pass.
“Needless to say, I will introduce the first abatement bill every week until a vote is taken,” Goode said.
Goode on Thursday brought forth a second piece of legislation that would extend the property tax abatement indefinitely to all city and School District-owned properties.
That bill was referred to a committee.
“The bill asks a simple question,” Goode said to fellow Council members.
“Do we want to continue taking money from the School District through the abatement program? If you want to stop taking money from the School District, vote ‘yes.’ If you want to keep taking money from the School District, vote ‘no.’”