HARRISBURG, Pa. – The October 26th Youth March for Educational Justice brought nearly 2,000 high school students from across the state to the Capitol steps here, Oct. 22, demanding adequate and equitable funding. The march was organized by Good Schools PA. The crowd came from as far west as Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg, as far east as Philadelphia.

In front of the State Office building in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Student Union held a 9 a.m. press conference attended by several hundred students before they boarded buses for Harrisburg. Speaking of funding inequities, Jacob Winterstein, a student, asked, “Are students in Lower Merion Township worth twice as much as students in Philadelphia? Why does Lower Merion spend $14,400 per student and Philadelphia spend only $7,500 per student?”

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) told the students that they deserve smaller classes, qualified teachers and current textbooks. “Stand up for your future. Tell the next governor and legislature that Philadelphia students and all Pennsylvania students need fair funding,” he said.

A student, Selamwit Tewelde, reminded the students that they had accomplished a victory, not one high school had been privatized. “Bush and Gov. Schweiker say they will leave no child behind. They talk the talk but they need to walk the walk and put the money where their mouth is. Why does Pennsylvania spend $35,000 per prisoner but only $3,500 per student?” she asked. “We must be confident and keep on organizing.”

At the Harrisburg rally, Tim Potts decried “school choice” as a model where students are seen as products and parents as consumers. “Schools are not factories,” said Potts.

A Harrisburg student called for more funds and caring teachers and administrators. A student from Armstrong County, a rural area where the average yearly income is $16,000, called for a new equitable funding system – not based on property tax, because people were losing their homes.

Helen Gym, from Philadelphia Asian Americans United, called for justice. “One billion dollars a day goes to the military,” Gym said. “There is enough money – the problem is how it’s allocated. Everyone must be educated. Another world is possible.”

The students then marched around the Capitol, with marching bands and two giant puppets representing Rendell and Fisher, the candidates for governor. Huge signs read, “All Kids Are Created Equal But Their Schools Are Not.”

Tim Stevens, from the Pittsburgh NAACP, said, “The ticket to liberation is equal opportunity to quality education.” Stevens said he was proud of Good Schools PA but gave the state a D- for the kind of education it provides its students. Like others, he called attention to the funding gap between the best schools in wealthy districts and the thousands of other classrooms and the lack of money for preschool.

At the end of the rally the legislators came outside to speak with the students from their districts. Many sent their aides. “We will be back. This is only the beginning,” said the students.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthilnk.net