A tale of two budgets in the City of Brotherly Love
A grim situation faces Philadelphia public schools in the face of severe budget cuts that has been described as catastrophic. Philly.com reports that in the wake of a $304 million shortfall in the budget, public schools will open in the fall "without new books, paper, clubs, counselors, librarians, assistant principals, or secretaries. Athletics, art, and music would be gone. There could be 3,000 layoffs, including some teachers." With larger class sizes and fewer teachers, the outlook is bleak for being able to provide enough support to students.
This alone is enough of a shame, especially since Philadelphia is hardly the only city facing drastic cuts to schools. Investing in education and providing for kids should be a priority—showing that we care for the next generation and give them the tools both to succeed personally and to lead us into the future. In addition, the York Dispatch notes that the city recently approved a tax cut for corporations which could have possible been a source of revenue and will cost an estimated $600 to $800 million per year.
Yet at the same time the schools face this cash flow crisis, millions of dollars are currently being used to construct a brand new prison right outside the city—a project costing around $400 million. Only the Philadelphia convention center cost more to taxpayers. Says The Inquirer: "When finished in 2015, the new cell blocks, classrooms, and support space, surrounded by twin 40-foot fences and a LEED-certified earth berm, will replace the old prison and its reinforced-concrete walls as home to 4,000 offenders, including 700 serving life sentences."
The new prison will apparently in the long run cost less to maintain: about $70/day for each inmate as opposed to the $100/day needed at the old prison. And it will feature improvements such as air conditioning and roofs that don’t leak, and it certainly makes sense to include these features that will contribute to human dignity of those imprisoned.
However, the construction of this prison, especially juxtaposed with the budget situation facing schools in the same city, can be interpreted as an illustration of our society’s priorities. Obviously there are many complex decisions to made when balancing budgets for a major city (and for the whole country), but ultimately, budgets are moral documents that reflect what issues are the most important or pressing and thus deserving of funding. And in the case of Philadelphia, it looks like we’re prioritizing imprisonment and punishment over an investment in our future generations.