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All around Pennsylvania, including in Pottstown, schools are dealing with substantial underfunding. | Image courtesy: VisitPA

Here’s my holiday wish, New Year’s Eve aspiration, whatever you want to call it…

Next year, we make a vow to consider the things that are important. That will help us out in the long run. What’s important for not just our immediate and extended families, but ultimately for the greater good.

We have the unique advantage of living in a political and social climate where politicians have no choice but to listen because even if gripes fall on deaf ears now, it only means their time in office is limited. I think that goes for all levels and branches of government.

OK, so what am I getting at, you ask?

I’m getting at the fact in a few short days it’ll be 2019 and the issue of how we are going to appropriately fund education in the state of Pennsylvania still hasn’t been figured out. A trend is that the more diverse school systems, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and even low-lying areas like Pottstown, are feeling the squeeze from the state when it comes to funding that can make a significant change.

Why is that? Well, judging by the letter I received earlier this month, it’s not taxes. If you ask me, I think our education system in Pennsylvania still has yet to realize that all kids matter, even the black and brown ones who live in our cities and more economically diverse towns.

Read this letter and tell me what you think. As you know, I’m always all ears and eyes when it comes to solutions-based comments, theories and even rants.

To the Editor,

We are writing to you because the State of Pennsylvania should be doing right by all her students, not just half of them. Unfortunately, half of our public school children are being shortchanged, including the children of Pottstown.

In Pottstown, a borough outside of Philadelphia, our property taxes are among the highest in the state and still our schools are underfunded to the tune of more than $13 million per year. This means we struggle with overcrowded classes and buildings. We also have a tough time holding on to teachers since we can't pay them what they deserve. We do the best with what we have, but we are hurting and have been for years.

Why are we so underfunded you might ask? There are three main reasons:

I. “Hold Harmless.” This is a rule that the state legislature created that says you can never give a district less than they got the year before. If a school district was getting a lot of money when it had a higher student population, it gets the same amount even if the population has dropped. This means that the state is providing more money per student to districts with shrinking populations and less per student to growing districts and to urban districts with a higher minority populations. This is not only bad public policy, it is morally indefensible.

II. Fair Funding.  Even though we have a fair funding formula to help allocate state funding based on need, that formula is only applied to new money introduced into the education budget. In 2018, the formula applied to only 7.5 percent of the education budget.

III. Politics. The majority of the leadership in both houses of the state legislature represent districts with shrinking populations and therefore benefit from hold harmless. This makes it political suicide for those leaders to allow bills that would resolve this unfairness to be moved forward for votes because it would diminish funding to the school districts they represent.

In the final analysis, half of Pennsylvania’s students live in underfunded school districts. Those underfunded districts are disproportionately poor and even more disproportionately non-white. The current system is truly unjust.

We need to support legislation that will phase out hold harmless and enact full application of the Fair Funding Formula. It's time to provide a more equal opportunity to all our kids.

Sincerely,

Laura Johnson, Raymond Rose, Marisa Swiderski

Agree? Disagree? Email me at mail@philadelphiaweekly.com

TWITTER: @SPRTSWTR

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