May 8 — 6:24 am, 2019

Level of state education funding keeps families in poverty

We should not elect representatives who put little effort into giving children an equitable education.

Carly King

Carly King's daughter, Alexis Hearst, testifies before City Council about school funding while holding her own daughter. (Photo: Greg Windle)

I will always remember the first time a teenager told me they didn’t have dreams and aspirations. As one young lady put it, “What’s the point?” Discouraged by the state of their public schools, they saw minimal opportunities for their futures.

As a social worker, I see daily how poverty blurs the lines of child abuse and neglect for families and disproportionately affects black and brown communities. I have seen more families enter the child welfare system from truancy or education-based referrals than from any other point of entry.

Pennsylvania schools need a fair funding formula that will address economic and educational inequality across districts. Instead, our elected officials find ways to dance around addressing any true marginalization of black and Latino students in our public schools.

The City of Brotherly Love doesn’t seem to have unconditional love for all its children, which is shown by the poor conditions many endure daily. Philadelphia students are being shortchanged from the chance to break economic barriers in their communities by receiving an adequate education. The evidence includes deplorable building conditions, lack of tangible learning resources, digital divides between and among district schools, issues with school safety, low graduation rates, poorly executed special education services, and the overall lack of preparedness for higher education and the workforce.

To break cycles of intergenerational poverty in Philadelphia, we must invest in education and prioritize those most in need.

Studies show that 26 percent of the city’s population is in poverty and 81 percent of children who attend a Philadelphia public school live in poverty. Philadelphia has the highest levels of deep poverty among U.S. major cities, a level defined as living more than 50 percent below the federal poverty line. Research shows a disparity between the number of skilled professionals needed to fill open positions across the country and the education levels and qualifications of those seeking to enter the workforce.

There is no denying that higher educational attainment relates to higher income. Yet we allow students to forgo college because they can’t afford application fees, push children through special education without learning appropriate skills, and allow budget cuts to deprive students of counselors and nurses.

School funding is heavily reliant on property taxes and the wealth of parents, causing schools in lower-income communities to suffer most.

Equality is not equity, and City Council’s previously proposed budgets do not level the playing field, let alone provide for an enriching educational experience. Our students deserve to have safe and toxin-free buildings, books, counselors, and nurses. They should have arts and recreation, career development, modernized classrooms and staff who are equipped with the cultural humility to work with families who have multi-faceted needs.

Though Gov. Wolf recently announced a new school funding formula, it is not without flaws, nor is it enough to address the concerns of Philadelphia students. Mediocre attempts at school funding reform will not level any playing fields for students in low-income districts – more progressive change is needed to address the gaps between districts across the state.

Pennsylvania ranks among the lowest in the country in the state’s share of education spending, causing more stress on local governments to deal with the fallout from being underfunded. Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, explained that by the 2016-17 school year, the state’s “gap in per-pupil spending between a typical affluent district and a typical poor district” had grown to $3,778 per child. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found a high return on investment for money that is spent on early childhood education, backed by research from a Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist. Yet partisan debates about how education funding should be distributed continue.

Since the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that “separate but equal” education was unconstitutional, our country has shown its disregard for the education of marginalized communities. School integration was based on the assumption that all children, regardless of race, would receive an equal and adequate education. But providing some children close to $4,000 more in annual funding than others seems both separate and extremely unequal.

So, is this indicative of how we feel about our inner-city youth, black and brown children, and low-income families?

We must be vocal with our elected officials and know that the problem is bigger than our local district. Not only should the State of Pennsylvania be held accountable for funding this new formula, but Philadelphians need more. We need to pay attention to where our voices as concerned citizens and parents can be effective.

Elections are coming up. Let us not be passive in our advocacy for our children by electing more representatives who have put little effort into giving them an equitable education.

Carly King is a Philadelphia resident and parent of two public school graduates. Now a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Social Work, she has also worked for child protective services in Philadelphia for more than 10 years.

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