Editorial: Demand state change school funding inequities

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Brandt reported on two recent studies which analyzed school funding under the current application of the so-called fair funding formula. The results paint a startling picture of discrimination.

Not only were poorer districts getting less than their fair share, the less white a poor district was, the worse the inequity.

“On average, the whitest districts gets thousands of dollars more than their fair share for each student, while the least white districts get thousands less for each student than their fair share,” said David Mosenkis, a data researcher and volunteer who put together one of the studies last year for POWER, a Philadelphia-based faith advocacy group.

The issue goes much deeper than just the effect of race on the fair funding formula. A number of factors have contributed to Pennsylvania’s standing as having the worst funding inequality in the nation, according to The Campaign for Fair Education Funding.

A project of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, the Campaign is one of several grass-roots efforts trying to fix school funding by pressuring legislators to change laws.

Part of the problem, citizens advocates point out, is that if the fair funding formula was applied uniformly, many districts particularly in the middle of the state would lose state money. Many of those districts are represented by the leaders who control the legislative agenda.

And the elected officials who represent the districts that would benefit from change may not have the political clout to fix it.

“If it were up to me, I would change it,” state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., told Digital First Media. “The reality is there are about 149 winning districts, for lack of a better word, and about 352 losing districts.

“Most of us in the Southeast favor this because most of our districts would benefit. I think Pottstown’s state funding would go up by 74 percent, and even Spring-Ford would see a 26 percent rise and Perkiomen Valley would go up by 22 percent,” said Quigley, who is a member of the House Education Committee.

Advocates for change realize the disparities didn’t happen overnight or by design.

“I can forgive historical, accidental dispersing of education funding,” said Mosenkis. “But now that we have shone a light on its existence, now that we know there is a systemic bias that favors white populations, there is no excuse for not fixing it.”

“Fixing it” is the goal of PCCY and is the impetus for several upcoming trips to Harrisburg.

“The more legislators hear that their constituents are fed up with this system that perpetuates disparity, the sooner we’ll see the changes we need,” said PCCY Executive Director Donna Cooper.

PCCY has several planned trips to bring citizens from Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties to Harrisburg to meet with legislators and staff on the issue of school funding. The group has scheduled meetings and transportation for trips on June 5 and June 22, the season of budget talks in Harrisburg.

On May 22, a group of Pottstown educators including Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez are headed to Harrisburg with PCCY for meetings with legislators.

“Inequity in our public education system negatively affects all children in the system and impacts all communities,” said Cooper. “Isn’t it past time to see the impact of fair funding?”

But as legislators themselves point out, meeting with local reps is a bit like preaching to the choir. Their hands are tied by the leadership control of legislative agendas and committee procedures, and the leaders are not in a hurry to change the system.

What can be done?

Write to legislators. Join trips to Harrisburg. Get involved with groups demanding fair funding.

Send a message to Harrisburg that children deserve a quality education in public schools, regardless of income or race.

Our futures lie in the balance.

For information on PCCY trips to Harrisburg, contact Tomeas@pccy.org in Chester County or Shirleeh@pccy.org in Montgomery and Delaware counties.

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