Fair funding needed for public schools

By The Rev. Daniel Eisenberg

As I walk my daughter to school down the streets of Northeast Philly, I sometimes close my eyes and take in the sounds. I can hear people speaking a myriad of languages. Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, English, Chinese and more. This neighborhood has not always been diverse as it is now. As demographics have shifted over time, funding has not kept pace with population growth. I love our diversity. I love how the neighborhood is growing. We must now invest in the future of the community.

At present, the disbursement of the education funding is based on enrollment data from 1992. The community has changed enormously in the last three decades, but our investment in public goods has not changed in a generation. For Philadelphia’s Northeast, deep cuts to public spending have hit our low-income, black and brown students hardest. From David Mosenkis’ widely published research for POWER Interfaith, we know that while poverty is a factor in determining how much per-student aid a school district gets, it turns out to be less of a predictor than race. Inequity is intensified in Philadelphia, which educates a population that is 86% of students of color, across 326 schools.

We have an opportunity to create a more equitable future with Gov. Wolf’s education budget. On Tuesday morning, Gov Wolf urged the Legislature to invest some of its $10 billion surplus in 100% Fair Funding for public education. There is bipartisan support for bringing the Fair Funding formula into law. Today, only 11% of education funding runs through this formula, allowing funding discrepancies across districts to go largely unaddressed.

We need our Legislature to do the right thing. They will say the money that’s available today may not be available in the next few budget cycles and wring their hands about fiscal irresponsibility. However, it is neither fiscally nor morally responsible to allow our children’s schools to crumble. This underfunding is chronic.

I can see the steeple of my church from my daughter’s school. Before the pandemic, her elementary school was so blighted by mold that the students had to relocate classes for several weeks in the gymnasium. Austin Meehan Middle School took in the elementary students as a temporary measure to cope with the failing infrastructure and overcrowding, and they remained crowded there for two years. The middle school in our neighborhood has only one guidance counselor serving hundreds of students. Troublingly, these conditions are good by comparison to other districts.

As a clergy leader within POWER Interfaith, I’ve said time and time again that budgets are moral documents. When we make decisions to cut programs, to cut staff, to raise or lower property taxes, we are expressing our values and that has moral gravity.  We are glad to see Gov. Wolf answer the call of our interfaith leaders to fully fund and fairly distribute the resources needed to educate our students. That’s why we are assembling across Pennsylvania on June 21, at noon, to stand together to support Gov. Wolf’s proposed 2021 budget with 100% Fair Funding for public education. I urge our legislature to join us in the upcoming vote on the Pennsylvania budget, as this will shape the lives of my community, my family, my congregation and determine the future of Northeast Philadelphia. ••

The Rev. Daniel Eisenberg is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, 3101 Tyson Ave.

Philadelphia: Pilgrimage for Education, hosted by POWER Interfaith, will take place Monday, June 21, at noon. The group will meet at Samuel Gompers School, 5701 Wynnefield Ave., and walk to Merion Elementary.

In-person actions will be taking place in Philadelphia, Allentown, Pottstown and Lancaster. Part of the action also will be live-streamed for remote participation.

Register at https://secure.everyaction.com/RQkO-Nb4dESMXYGVRfEZoA2.