This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and The Mercury‘s website.
WEST CHESTER — On the steps of the Chester County Courthouse, public officials, education advocates and local actors gathered to call on state leaders to adopt a fair and adequate funding formula for Pennsylvania schools June 11.
Pennsylvania is one of just three states in the country to not have a fair and reliable funding formula and due to that, the state has the largest funding gap between the wealthy and poor school districts, according to the Associated Press.
As part of a statewide call-to-action, groups have gathered on courthouse steps across the commonwealth to address the fair funding issue.
“Today is a statewide day of action,” said Della Jenkins, the Bucks and Chester County coordinator for Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY). “We have these types of events happening on courthouse steps throughout the commonwealth. In this region, we have one in Montgomery County, Delaware County and Philadelphia happening today as well.”
… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]
Chester County’s 12 school districts, though considered some of the best in the state with its 93 percent graduation rate (second best in the region), is not keeping up with “the technological advancements that are needed to prepare today’s students for the workforce or to move on to more industry-specific training,” according to research conducted for the Chester County Planning Commission.
Instructional spending between the districts is still quite large in the county. There is at least a $98,000 difference gap per classroom between the lowest- and highest-spending districts.
“A report on educational outputs would be incomplete without an examination of monetary inputs,” reads the 2013 PCCY report on Chester County. “Sufficient funding alone will not fix all the challenges of public education, but without adequate funds, schools cannot provide the resources necessary to help their students succeed.”
In 2011, Pennsylvania cut $1 billion in aid to school districts and Chester County, among other counties, were hit hard by the slash. All 12 districts, though varying in amount, have received less aid since 2010 and as a whole, Chester County districts are operating with $17 million less in 2013 than they had in 2010, according the PCCY’s report.
“Our children are worth the investment,” said West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta. “They are our future.”
Along with Comitta, Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action, was also in attendance.
“It’s so wonderful when we have local leaders who have the same goals as the advocates and as the school administrators,” Jenkins said. “Everyone is on the same page with what children and what schools need to do. We feel like there is broad-base support and consensus within the counties about what needs to happen in order for us to have equitable and predictable school funding. We’re just excited to have this support. We hope the legislature will act accordingly.”
West Chester Area School District has been proactive in the fight against unfunded state mandates, forming a Legislative Action Committee to inform the public on what Harrisburg is doing and what the residents can do to try and change things.
“Here in West Chester, our superintendent and our school board have done a great job of managing the situation,” Shaw said. “Still, the just-passed budget includes a 1.9 percent increase and increases in taxes will continue here in West Chester and across the county, especially in light of rising costs of unfunded mandates, pensions and charter schools.”
So across Pennsylvania between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., groups gathered to bring attention to the need of a formula which serves each district and child in the state equally.
“It’s really important for our community to step up and let out legislators know how important their education is,” Shaw said.
Along with statements from Comitta and Shaw, three local actors — Marcia Hepps, Rowan Hepps Keeney and Jamie Catania — to perform a 10-minute monologue from “School Play,” a 90-minute play which premiered in Philadelphia in April.
“PCCY commissioned a group of local playwrites led by Arden Kass, Seth Bauer and Ed Sobel,” Jenkins said. “They went around the commonwealth and did interviews and collected testimonies from school administrators, parents, kids and teachers and talked to them about what they saw happening in their districts and how the cuts had affected their classrooms and their lives. They wove that together into (School Play).”
The play, which was a hit in Philadelphia, has been picked up by local theaters as well as another way to get the word out to residents of the state.
“We are hoping to use the play as a tool to get public awareness raised about the issue and to get people to feel their voices are heard as the legislature makes their decision,” Jenkins said. “We hope that people across the Commonwealth will replicate this in their communities.”