Pennsylvania state Republicans are holding critical public funds for Philadelphia schools hostage, saying they won’t sign off on funds unless city Democrats agree to back a separate measure that cuts retirement benefits to future state workers.

“If Philadelphia Democrats aren’t going to be there for what needs to be done, then nobody’s going to be there for them,” state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby told local news affiliate WHYY last week. “And they can go home and tell their constituents why they couldn’t get money for the school district.”

The Philadelphia City Paper explains that education is just another bargaining chip to state Republicans. “The state has controlled Philadelphia schools since 2001 — yet under Corbett has deeply cut their funding. The recent comments are a stark reminder that state Republicans don’t always consider Philadelphia’s youth, disproportionately black and poor, to belong to the Commonwealth as a whole.” Even as Republican lawmakers gamble with education, the city’s schools are threatened with an outright crisis in terms of staffing and resources. “Thousands of teaching and staff positions have already been lost. Schools have been closed, libraries are shuttered, violence has erupted, counselors cannot address complex student needs, nurses at many schools are part-time and arts and music are anemic. It could get far worse. ”

Over the weekend, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett reinforced the ultimatum at a press conference and promised to veto any budget that did not include pension reforms.

Democratic lawmakers are being told to make a choice between the future of the children attending those public schools, or the future of the hard-working public servants. Without a new budget, schools will literally shut down.The District’s budget gap will widen to $105 million if the governor’s budgeted spending doesn’t come through, forcing so many layoffs that schools will have difficulty remaining open.

Sounds like the kind of costly, obstructionist “choice” Republican lawmakers are in the habit of using to get their way. Let’s hope the Democrats stand their ground and fight for public workers as well as public education.