Pennsylvanians demand school funding

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Protesters organized by Good Schools Pennsylvania lined the steps of the Capitol Rotunda here Dec. 9 with a strong message for the State Senate: “Pass an education budget that greatly increases funding for education reform. Don’t fail our children!” School districts in Pennsylvania have not received their state subsidies for the last five months. The Republican-controlled Legislature refused to pass Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s Education Budget to fund his reform initiatives last July 31. School districts have had to borrow money to keep their schools open. Many face shutdown on Dec. 31.

“We cry out for educational justice, even though it seems like we are a voice in the wilderness,” said Rev. Arthur R. White, president of the Pennsylvania Baptist Convention. Nelida Sepulveda, Good Schools Pennsylvania director, urged the Senate to increase school funding at least to the level passed by the House which last October passed a compromise bill. That bill drastically cut the governor’s request for $650 million, but did provide $450 million in new funding for the basic education subsidy and restored funds for libraries and other social services.

“Don’t fail your children!” shouted the crowd as the name of each senator was read aloud and a photograph of the senator placed on a clothesline held aloft. Rev. White then led a call and response list of “What all children need” – adequate and equitable funding, smaller class size, quality administrators and teachers with high expectations for all children, quality preschools, textbooks, technology and school libraries, tutoring for struggling students. “When do they need it?” asked Rev. White. “Now!” shouted the crowd. The demands listed by Good Schools Pennsylvania were all part of the governor’s reform bills which the Senate rejected. Rendell has said that he will veto any bill that does not significantly increase school funding as guided by his reform bills.

The governor has proposed raising money for the schools by raising the state income tax for those with incomes above $54,000 a year while lowering the property tax and the Philadelphia wage tax, and putting slot machines at race tracks. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has classified half the schools in the state as “not making adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind Act guidelines. The funding gap between wealthy schools and poor schools has increased with some districts spending less than $5,000 per student while others are able to spend over $14,000 per student. Students in both urban and rural school districts suffer this great inequity. The majority of students in urban school districts are African American and/or Latino, while many of those in rural districts are white and poor.

Good Schools Pennsylvania has organized a statewide coalition of community groups, parents, students, religious congregations, business and civic organizations to pressure the Legislature. Thousands of citizens have gone to the state Capitol.

Rendell made education reform part of his platform when he campaigned in 2002, getting many Republican votes to win the governorship.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net.