WAKE UP CALL

Ac­tivists press for hear­ing on racial in­equity in school fund­ing

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

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.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BEU­LAH OSUEKE

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.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BEU­LAH OSUEKE

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.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BEU­LAH OSUEKE

Kaleigh Schwartz came along with her mom to ar­gue for fair ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing for all.

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