(c) dglimages – stock.adobe.com
By Nasharie Stewart
I loved the polished glass exterior of that high school building. When entering, I would feel warmly welcomed by all of the bright colors and lighting. The lockers were big enough to fit all of our books and bags, the cafeteria was spacious and sunlit, and the air was always just the right temperature.
Upstairs, the library was overflowing with new books on every shelf. A librarian would help us find any books we might need for research or study hall purposes. And when other schools came to visit for a game or an academic event, I would feel overcome with pride for this high school.
This was an adequately funded school. Except this wasn’t my high school.
This was a real high school that I visited just minutes down the road from mine, located within a different zip code. And while I’m proud to have attended the William Penn School District where I graduated in 2021, because of the supportive community I found within it, I also recognize the resources and opportunities that I’ve missed out on.
Opportunities for libraries with up-to-date books and a cafeteria not located in a dimly lit basement. Instead, I remember wearing my coat in classrooms during winter because there wasn’t any heat, the exposed wiring hanging loose and bricks sliding out of the walls. All things that led to feelings of embarrassment when other schools came to visit.
However, thanks to the Commonwealth Court’s February ruling, students will no longer have to miss out on all of the things that an equitable education should have. It’s now inexcusable for my experiences to continue being that of younger generations.
When I was a third grader, I realized for the first time that there were many things missing from my elementary school. I always felt that it wasn’t quite normal for us to read from old books or for our auditorium to also be our cafeteria.
However, it wasn’t until there was a gas leak in my elementary school that forced me to visit another, more adequately funded school outside of our district, that it all became clear. At that moment I began to wonder why students who looked like me, or were Black, had less.
That realization occurred in 2013, when I was far too young to know that a year later my district and five others would file a lawsuit against state officials for fair funding – a clear confirmation that what I was experiencing was far from normal.
My hope is that now, younger students won’t have to feel inferior or wonder why they don’t have what other schools have. My hope is that now, when these younger students get to high school, they won’t be sitting in a classroom where a pipe from the ceiling could burst and flood the room.
When I was in my sophomore year of high school, this happened during my English class. It’s a moment I’ll always remember. Not because I felt unsafe or bothered by all of the water getting on us, but because I felt my learning had been interrupted.
We spent the next week bouncing around different classrooms to continue our lessons in the back of another teacher’s room while they were teaching. We had to be quieter and I’m sure we fell behind the curriculum because of the interruption. Eventually, the district found a way to repair the pipe, but it wasn’t a permanent repair. There weren’t enough funds for that.
When we were finally able to return to our original classroom, I remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking “When that happens again, maybe if I quickly pull the classroom trash can underneath, we can minimize the mess.”
When state legislators act in good faith to implement the court’s ruling, these aren’t worries students will have anymore. This ruling affirms that every student is able to learn when given the right tools and shown that they are believed in. For so long the message to students in underfunded schools has been “You don’t matter.” Now it’s time for legislators to let students know by their actions that they do matter.
It’s time for them to fundamentally change the way Pennsylvania funds public schools because it’s no longer simply heartbreaking to leave these schools under-resourced. Now it’s unconstitutional.
Nasharie Stewart is a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University studying Political Science and Psychology. She is an advocate for equitable funding and an intern for the Education Law Center, one of the law centers that brought the fair funding litigation.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.