WAKE UP CALL
Activists press for hearing on racial inequity in school funding
POTTSTOWN » The people of POWER and the lower-income people they represent want to be heard — and they want to be heard by the right people.
That’s why they arranged a press conference Thursday afternoon at Pottstown High School to pressure a politician to keep his promise.
Specifically, they want state Sen. John Eichelberger, chairman of the Senate education committee, to hold hearings on the racial disparity in Pennsylvania’s education funding system that one of their researchers uncovered last year.
As Digital First Media reported in April, researcher David Mosenkis was applying Pennsylvania’s newly adopted “fair funding formula” to all education funding to determine how much each district would receive.
Currently, only 6 percent of the entire education budget is funded through this formula.
Like in the 46 other states that already have one, the formula takes into account things like poverty level, minority makeup, special education population, district size and other factors to ensure each Pennsylvania student has equal opportunities for a useful public education.
But what Mosenkis discovered, since confirmed in a separate study by the Education Law Center, is that the cur-
rent funding methodology in Pennsylvania favors districts with higher populations, even when the level of poverty is the same.
When looked at on a perstudent basis, “white districts get 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,” Mosenkis wrote in 2016.
POWER — a Philadelphia faith-based advocacy group — approached Eichelberger with this information and he promised to hold a hearing “but he refuses to set a date,” said Will Fuller, an organizer for POWER, which stands for Philadelphia Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild.
“We’re going to continue this and ramp up the pressure, even with all the other things going on,” he said in reference to the General Assembly’s continued failure to adopt a revenue plan to spending plan it put in place in July. He said the group has set Sept. 25 as a “day of action” in Harrisburg.
Attempts to reach Eichelberger’s office for comment Thursday evening were unsuccessful. In the meantime, those at the press conference were reaching out with a message that things have to change. Pottstown High School senior Gianna Kimmell said the district’s art teachers have to “use their own money for supplies that their budget will not cover. Since I was in elementary school, this was a reoccurring issue, more than 10 years later, it still stands.”
She said cross country coach Mary Ann Hill “personally pays for all their cross country meets, as well as their snacks and water for these meets.”
Kimmell said there are only two guidance counselors for 450 students at Pottstown High School and worse yet, Kelly Leibold said she is one of only two guidance counselors for more than 900 students at Pottstown Middle School.
For years, music classes have not been part of the student schedule at the middle school and for the first time this year, there are also no language classes there, said Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez, who just last week went to Harrisburg to educate lawmakers about how the Pennsylvania funding system is hurting Pottstown students.
“We are $13.7 million underfunded, a number that has continued to grow over the past years; we have the third highest tax burden in the commonwealth,” he said adding that the district has lost 50 positions in the last decade. The fact that teachers and coaches have to buy supplies for their students is even more egregious, Rodrigues said, when you consider that, as Digital First Media reported last month, Pottstown teachers have the lowest average wage of any public teachers in Montgomery County — which is home to the single highest average teacher salaries in Pennsylvania. The POWER research “clearly demonstrates that our current funding system is terribly racially biased,” said Rodriguez. “This is morally wrong. But what could be more wrong, is to know about it and choose to do nothing. We need a hearing on this issue, and we need it now.”
Dwayne Mosier, pastor of Ascension United Church of Christ in Norristown, agreed, saying his son is visually impaired but the Norristown Area School District could not afford to give him the special help he needed to succeed.
“This is a moral issue that scripture commands we respond to,” said Mosier. “We must fund our schools fairly and if we must hold a hearing to make that happen, we must do that.”
Darrell Boyd, a professor of Urban Studies at Eastern University, had a similar message.
“We are here today to ensure that Sen. Eichelberger keeps his promise and holds hearing this fall on racial inequity in education funding,” said Boyd.
“Wake up and realize that simply put, money matters,” said Stacey Woodland, CEO of YWCA TriCounty Area, based in Pottstown.
“We have a broken funding system with entrench inequities in education funding,” said Woodland, noting that “Pennsylvania is home to six of the nation’s most segregated school districts.”
Concluded Woodland, “it will take years of sustained higher and targeted education funding to provide all Pennsylvania students with the tools they need to succeed. And that won’t start without a hearing.”
Ashley Faison and Sheri McDonald, both employees of YWCA TriCounty Area, were on hand Thursday to show support for hearings on the racial inequity in Pennsylvania’s school funding.
Dwayne Mosier, pastor of Ascension United Church of Christ in Norristown, said “it is a moral issue” for people of conscience to demand that the racial disparity in Pennsylvania’s education funding system be corrected.
More than 20 teachers, school board members, students, activists and community leaders joined the call Thursday for the Senate Education Committee to hold hearings on the racial disparity in Pennsylvania’s education funding system.
Stacey Woodland, CEO of the YWCA TriCounty Area, and Jonathan Corson, president of the Pottstown Chapter of the NAACP, both advocate for the Pennsylvania Senate to hold hearings on the racial disparity in education funding.
Kaleigh Schwartz came along with her mom to argue for fair education funding for all.