***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Following Pressure from POWER, Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission To Allow Public Testimony at All Hearings
After negotiation late Monday, PA’s Basic Education Funding Commission has agreed to allow a public testimony period at all future hearings, a concession in exchange for POWER calling off planned non-violent direct action at Commission hearing; POWER members now plan to testify during newly allotted time on Wednesday, November 19 with prophetic vision for full, fair funding for public education in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Margaret Ernst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609.577.6430 (c) 215.232.7697 (o)
Philadelphia, PA — The interfaith organization POWER has been informed that a public comment period will now be allowed at all future hearings of Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission, the body charged with developing a new formula for state funding of public schools, which plans to have two hearings in Philadelphia this Tuesday and Wednesday. The change is a result of negotiation with POWER after the organization announced plans to take non-violent direct action during tomorrow’s hearing if public testimony was not permitted. POWER leaders will still be present at Tuesday’s hearing in prayerful witness, but plan not to disrupt the hearing, and plans to testify during the newly alotted time on Wednesday.
POWER sent an open letter to the Commission last week calling for a public comment period, for the date for the Commission’s report to be pushed earlier and to include recommendations for adequate funding as well as equitable funding for schools. The letter also informed the Commission of its intentions to support leaders in testifying “whether or not they have been invited” if no public comment period was permitted.
Representatives of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which previously has not allowed for input from the public after several requests from public education advocates, parents, and clergy from various localities, made an offer on Monday night proposing a variety of concessions if POWER cancelled its non-violent civil disobedience. Originally these offers did not include a public comment period in Philadelphia; POWER held its ground that they would not cancel plans until this was permitted. The Commission agreed, and there will now be a half-hour for public testimony in all hearings statewide from this point forward, starting in the second day of hearings in Philadelphia on Wednesday during the last half hour of the hearing. Wednesday’s hearing begins at 10AM in the Mayor’s Reception Room at Philadelphia City Hall.
Now that the call for public testimony has been met, POWER plans to have a variety of individuals testify in a traditional fashion on Wednesday with its hope for a funding formula. Further, the Commission has allowed for David Mosenkis, a POWER leader and data analyst who revealed racial discrimination in the state’s funding of public schools, to have additional time to address the Commission about his findings on Wednesday. Mosenkis’ request to testify was denied prior to today.
POWER’s grassroots leadership of lay and clergy people, many of whom planned even to risk arrest for the sake of making their voices heard to the Commission, expressed excitement about the shift.
“It is encouraging that the people will have a chance to speak so that citizens’ concerns and vision for Pennsylvania’s funding of public education will truly be addressed, instead of someone else’s agenda,” said Beth Jemison, a member of Calvary United Methodist Church.
“We fought for public testimony at these hearings because we believe people of this city and state should a say in their own destiny. This is not just a win for POWER. It’s a win for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania,” said Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel A.M.E, who has been active in POWER’s campaign for a funding formula.
“When you are willing to take non-violent direct action on behalf of what you believe in, it brings truth to the surface and reveals tension that underlies our everyday world. When people of faith plan to act in the world as it should be instead of play by the rules of the world as it is, we create the change that our communities deserve, ” said Michael Caine, pastor of Old First Reformed UCC in Old City.
POWER’s leadership also expressed its desire to see the other requests of its open letter to be addressed: for the Commission to address funding adequacy levels in addition to a fair distribution of funding and for the Commission to release its report to the General Assembly in March instead of June so that a funding formula can be incorporated in next year’s budget.
“We need to think big. Let’s not talk about dividing a small, inadequate pie. Let’s envision exactly what we need for excellent public education for all of our kids and let’s make it happen as soon as possible. We do not want to delay for another year because our kids need the best right now. The deadline for this commission’s report must be in time for this year’s budget,” said Rabbi Julie Greenberg of Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir/Heart of the City.
“We have won just one battle in a much longer struggle. Is is a struggle for all our children, whatever their skin color or income, whether they are from the city, the suburbs, or rural areas, whether they are rich or poor, to be considered equally sacred and worth our investment. Our children are worth more. This is what our faith says, and we will continue saying and standing for it until we have a full, fair funding formula that will allow all our communities to thrive,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, POWER’s executive director and pastor at Living Water United Church of Christ.
About POWER: POWER represents congregations from across the Philadelphia region, bringing people together across the lines of race, faith, income level and neighborhood — lines which have historically kept our city and state divided. POWER is committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now and seeks to exercise power in the public arena by strengthening and mobilizing our networks, so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city. POWER is nonpartisan and is not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office. Learn more at www.powerphiladelphia.org.