By Jim Melwert

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Parents, teachers, students, and education advocates boarded two buses this morning in center city Philadelphia, heading to Harrisburg to urge action from lawmakers on stalled legislation needed to help fund Philadelphia schools.

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The point, organizers say, is that if dozens of people can take time from their lives to go to Harrisburg, lawmakers can come back into session and take action on the $2-a-pack cigarette tax.

One complaint from lawmakers across the commonwealth is that taxes such as this cigarette tax would just be throwing more money at the Philadelphia school system.

But Jesse Gottschalk, a third-grade teacher, calls that argument ridiculous, saying with the current level of funding, Philadelphia schools need that cigarette tax money just to operate:

“When we have schools that don’t have nurses and we have counsellors laid off… I can’t imagine having a counsellor-to-student ratio of a thousand or more, which is what we had last year,” he said today.

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Roxy Barnebey, of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, says those riding the buses hope to urge action by lawmakers on the cigarette tax.

“Right now, in Philadelphia, we don’t have the power to tax ourselves,” she explains.  “And that’s all that we’re asking for, is for the state to give us the permission to tax ourselves so we can take care of our kids.”

Without the $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes, city officials say, the School District of Philadelphia will not open on time and there will be significant layoffs.


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