My Turn: Separate and unequal: The problem with Pennsylvania’s public school funding

Crystal Echeverria | October 8, 2020

In 1896, the Supreme Court established separate, but “equal”, public schools for black and white students. Almost a century later in 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal”, and ordered an end to school segregation. If you know anything about the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, you would know that Black students were denied the same opportunities that white students had when it came to schooling. Furthermore, if you know anything about the time before 1896, you would know that it was against the law for African American people to attend school. There is nothing more oppressive than having your education shortchanged, minimized or taken away from you, yet, this happens every day in Pennsylvania.

Henrietta Hilton, front left, daughter of tenant farmer William Hilton, and her fellow students, are seen in their ninth grade classroom in Summerton, S.C., June 4, 1954. The classroom is in a newly built brick building that adjoins to the old wooden structure, which is the center of a controversy which led to one of four cases involving "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites.

Students all across the Keystone state have been kept from the quality education they deserve. For all of civilization, education has been the gateway to freedom, but freedom denied is freedom destroyed. Once you are denied education, or the same education that is afforded to your peers, you are fighting an uphill battle the rest of your life.  

Unfortunately for those who would have it otherwise, my friends and I are working together to make positive changes in our education. 

For far too long, the adults in government, education and school boards have done nothing to change this. Even as the suffering and struggle of students plays out before their eyes, they refuse to lend a hand, even to a child. You see, for over five years Pennsylvania had a fair school funding formula law, and for over five years, no one has fixed the underfunding readily apparent before our eyes. It’s straightforward and simple.  Some school districts receive amounts close to what the formula says they should receive. Other districts receive more than their fair share. Then there are the school districts that receive less than their fair share. An unfortunate number of school districts are severely underfunded by tens of millions of dollars per year.  

That’s horrifying and unfair. 

What’s worse, study after study shows the underfunding is a blatant example of systemic racism.  

Simply put, students deserve better. 

We need Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly to end systemic racism in Pennsylvania school funding. 

Number one on the list of underfunded districts is Philadelphia City School District, which is underfunded by over $440 million. It’s difficult to believe that our largest and most well-known school district is so severely underfunded when school shapes so many futures in that iconic city. The second most underfunded district is Reading School District. Decades of $100 million dollars of underfunding has left Reading classrooms in ruins. Students aren’t hopeful for their future and have little faith in their education, and with no fault to their own. It’s devastating how neglectful our government has been to the needs of students, even in its own state capital. Harrisburg City School District is underfunded by $31 million, and it’s apparent that our local leaders are not interested in changing that.

Over 800,000 students go to school in these underfunded districts. Everyday, they deal with less resources than their peers just miles away. Why has Harrisburg failed students so badly?

Help us fix this. 

Share the student led petition: bit.ly/30NJ4Dg

2. Share the Op-Ed found here: bit.ly/3iNLY12

3. Encourage members of your organization to follow us on Facebook: facebook.com/EquityFirstOrg

4. Also, members may register to receive updates or send suggestions on forwarding the cause from our webpage: supportequityfirst.org

Thank you. These are four quick and easy things you can do to help us fix school funding in Pennsylvania.  We cannot wait another century to make this change.

Crystal Echeverria is a student in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Pocono Record My Turn columns feature notable opinions from Monroe County and beyond. Submit your ideas to afontones@poconorecord.com. 


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