Addressing systemic racism means equitably funding schools | Opinion
by Scott Gordon
photography by David Maialetti
This is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s history. Black people and white people, suburban residents and city dwellers, young people and business executives, have linked arms throughout our region to call for an end to systemic racism. Our black neighbors and friends have asked white people to break their silence and fight for justice. As a white man who leads a network of public charter schools that serve black and brown communities, I have seen that the way Pennsylvania funds, engages, and operates public schools is one of the most pernicious pillars of systemic racism. Here are two ways we can act now to change it:
Demand equitable public school funding. Most public schools are funded from local property taxes. In a resulting system that has the effect of ensuring that rich people and poor people, black and white people don’t educate their kids together, we’ve divided the Commonwealth into 501 school districts. This means that even within the same county, children receive an inequitable education. A student who attends a public school in Philadelphia receives $15,000 in funding and in Norristown $17,000, while a student in Strath Haven receives over $20,000 and in Lower Merion $25,000. In fact, Pennsylvania’s spending gap between rich and poor school districts is among the widest in the nation.
To secure a quality education for our own children and escape the consequences of this system, many parents have sent our children to magnet schools or private schools. In other cases, we moved to a better funded suburban school district or gentrified areas. But to not assertively act to change this inherently inequitable funding system means we are complicit in it.
Call your legislators and superintendents to demand that all state education funds based on the state-wide equitable funding formula adopted in 2016 that provides more to the poorer rural and urban school districts that need the funds most. Currently, just 10% of state funding follows this formula. We ask our suburban neighbors to hold their elected officials and school leaders accountable – together we can change this.
Demand internet access through the pandemic. In just 12 weeks, Philadelphia and surrounding counties will reopen schools for a new academic year. We know that the COVID virus will still be with us and schools will be delivering a blend of in-person and online instruction. All students therefore need internet access. For better-off students, that problem is already solved. But at some of our schools, a survey we conducted revealed that 30% of the families do not have internet access – which means our primarily black students will be systemically prevented from learning.
We call on our region’s business leaders, who have publicly decried racism, to step up now — convene the communications companies, politicians, and public schools to develop a solution by August. We cannot let the color of a student’s skin or the wealth of their parents determine whether they have access to an education next year.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform the systemic racism that shapes how public education is delivered in our region. Let’s turn our words into action now.