BY: DENNIS OWENS
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Schools in Pennsylvania are separate but not equal.
Or more accurately, according to study after study, the way schools are funded in the commonwealth in inequitable.
“We are experiencing here in Pennsylvania educational apartheid,” said Reverend Gregory Holston, Executive Director of POWER, an advocacy group based in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania, according to the US Department of Education, is the worst in the US when it comes to funding differences between the HAVE districts and the HAVE NOTS.
“We are the worst,” said Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “And not the worst by a little bit, but the worst by a lot.”
Hughes, and activists, called for change in the way schools are funded in PA. He pointed out that Overbrook High School, in his legislative district, spends $12,000 per pupil while Upper Dublin HS, also in his legislative district, spends $24,000, twice as much. Hughes calls that wrong legally and morally.
“Every child, no matter what zip code they live in, is as equal and important as every other,” Hughes said.
A fair funding formula has been created by the legislature, but only six percent of education funds flow through it. That means some schools get more than they should, others get less. The Education Law Center created a graph showing the districts that are winners and the districts that are losers. They produced a second graph showing the racial make-up of those winners and losers. Nearly all of the mostly-white districts were above the line, nearly all the schools below were districts predominately of color.
“This does not benefit white people,” said Representative Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia) passionately. “This does not benefit the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
And, the activists say, it doesn’t benefit generation upon generation of kids who are getting shortchanged academically. Those students are not fulfilling their potential, getting jobs and paying taxes. They also demanded a legislative fix.
“Do your job,” Holston said bluntly. “Your job is to end the racial disparity now. Otherwise, you are continuing to sign into law educational apartheid, no different than South Africa, no different than the south, no different than what was in this country for so many years. That’s gotta end.”
Of course, recognizing the problem is far easier than solving it. Holston would like to see one hundred percent of educational funding flow through the fair funding formula. That would mean less money to some school districts so the poorer schools could get more. That would likely meet with resistance from lawmakers whose schools would come out on the short end.
Hughes doesn’t want to take any money away from any district. He’d prefer to create an additional pot of money called an equity fund that would steer dollars to the most inequitable districts.
Of course, that too would be difficult in a state facing a $3 billion deficit.