(Philadelphia Tribune photo)
By Jerry Jordan
The landmark school funding decision proved, with finality, what those of us who have worked and lived through decades of catastrophic disinvestment in our system of public education have known for decades: the way that Pennsylvania funds its system of education is inequitable.
For years, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has worked with partners to draw this incredible inequity into the public eye and to ensure that the needs of our students are front and center when our elected leaders are making decisions about how to invest in public education.
This fight is deeply intertwined with our ongoing fight for racial justice. Because the fact of it is, the conditions that exist in underfunded schools would never, ever be tolerated in wealthier, whiter school districts.
The PFT has, from the inception of the case, stood lockstep in support of the brave plaintiffs and their attorneys. In fact, we filed two amicus briefs in support of the case, and provided ongoing technical support specifically around the devastating conditions in our school facilities.
Like anyone who has stepped foot in a public school knows, we firmly believe that every single student deserves an equal shot to learn and thrive. While that should be a given, for far too many lawmakers, it simply has not been. When school budgets were slashed, thousands of school staff were laid off, and twenty three public schools were shuttered, it was because of the callous disinvestment of former Gov. Tom Corbett and his allies.
This disinvestment led to the gut wrenching death of 6th grader Laporshia Massey who died after suffering an asthma attack with no school nurse assigned that day.
And while we have increased education funding exponentially since that time, we are nowhere near where we need to be. But the unequivocal ruling by Judge Renée Cohn Jubelier can change that. Her ruling explicitly determines that the system of school funding violates the Commonwealth’s constitution by failing to provide a “thorough and efficient” public education to all of our children.
So now, our lawmakers have the opportunity–no, the requirement–to rectify this. And here’s what rectifying this decades-long injustice will mean: establishing a school funding mechanism that, without exception, ensures that every child in every school district, regardless of zip code, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability, is afforded the resources they need to receive a public education that meets their needs.
And here are just a few examples of what that will look like for Philadelphia’s schoolchildren, many of which are outlined in our 2023 legislative platform:
- Safe, healthy schools where students can learn and educators can work without fear of being literally poisoned by their school building, including addressing the issues outlined in our May 2021 Scope and Solutions report;
- Modern school facilities that mirror the facilities readily available in wealthier school districts;
- A robust curriculum that ensures access to visual and performing arts, to career and technical education, to electives, and to core subjects that are taught with current and culturally relevant curriculum and materials;
- Ensuring that schools are fully staffed with the professionals needed to provide a holistic education for all students– from support staff for students with disabilities to ample school counselors and nurses in every building to classroom teachers to a host of other essential positions–it is incumbent upon elected officials at every level to address the staffing crisis facing our schools;
- Increased funding based on student needs–students experiencing poverty, students with disabilities, and students learning English need more specialized curriculum and resources, and a new system of funding must wholly embrace and recognize those needs;
- Ensuring that schools are community hubs that recognize the needs of the community they represent–the community schools model can be an exemplary means of implementing programming and services that respond and adapt to the community they serve.
I look forward to working with our elected officials, with educators, with advocates, with parents, and with community partners to not only think aspirationally about what our schools can be, but to truly win a system of public education that not only meets its constitutional obligation but in fact meets our fundamental societal obligation to provide an equitable opportunity for every child to learn, grow, and thrive.
Jerry Jordan is the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
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