David Parker – My Turn: Our students deserve fairly funded schools
Published August 17, 2017 in the Pocono Record
This past December marked the 60th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks got to ride on the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. We’ve made a lot of progress on civil rights across this great country since Dec. 21, 1956; but for some reason, in August 2017, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we are still treating African-Americans and other people of color like second-class citizens when it comes to education funding.
In 2014, our legislature recognized that Pennsylvania distributes education funding unfairly and established a Basic Education Funding Commission to design a better, fairer way to invest those education dollars. A new, fair, funding formula was unanimously approved by all members of the commission. Unfortunately, the legislature would only implement the newly adopted formula on the new money added to the basic education line item, while the existing $5.5 billion would continue to be distributed unfairly. Recent studies show that this funding distribution method discriminates against school districts with higher minority populations. It certainly holds true in my home county of Monroe, where the least-white (49 percent) district gets less than $2,000 per student, while the mostly white (77 percent) district gets more than $4,300 per student. Based on the last two state budgets, there is no plan to reach equity in school funding, and $5.5 billion in basic education funding and nearly $1 billion in special education funding will continue to be distributed by this discriminatory method in perpetuity. Tragically, by official state policy, Pennsylvania continues to discriminate against schools with higher populations of students of color.
If we applied Pennsylvania’s school funding solution to the Montgomery bus boycott, it would be like the mayor of Montgomery saying, “We are going to treat everyone fairly on the buses in Montgomery. From now on, every new bus we get will be desegregated. Any passenger, black or white, can enter the front of the bus and sit wherever they want to sit. However, our existing buses will still be segregated with blacks in the back and whites in the front and when necessary, blacks will give their seats up for whites, but this is only on existing buses. This will solve the problem.” I’m confident we can agree it would take years to solve the problem as buses were finally replaced. Likewise, Pennsylvania’s problem will never be solved because we’ve put $6.4 billion in a lockbox of discrimination forever.
Sixty years ago, discrimination was wrong in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, and in 2017, it’s wrong in county of Montgomery and the rest of Pennsylvania. The adopted formulas for basic and special education increasingly show discriminatory impacts that we need to fully understand and fix. No one is saying it will be easy to unwind 27 years of funding inequity. But, no matter what, it is not OK to discriminate or continue discriminatory practices just because it’s hard to fix. With discrimination now widely known, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and governor must immediately distribute all basic and special education funding through the adopted formulas and stop further damages.
— David Parker is a Republican from Monroe County who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2015-2016. He represented the people of the 115th District, which includes three school districts shown to be collectively short-changed by $50 million in 2015-16 based on the new basic education funding formula. He serves as a director with Citizens for Fair School Funding to continue advocating for students and taxpayers to be treated fairly.