“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men.” -Horace Mann
I am the daughter of first generation college graduates. My mother was a kindergarten teacher. I grew up believing that education was the great equalizer. The American dream – our shared ideal that every citizen can be successful through hard work and determination – relies in part on the foundation of good education for all. Because I believed in the importance and value of education, I became a 7th grade science teacher.
It didn’t take long to see that all schools are not created equal. I had large classes and no budget for classroom supplies. I could occasionally purchase materials for demonstrations, but it was hard to afford supplies for each of my 125 students on a new-teacher salary. Education may be the great equalizer, but only if people have equal access to it. Sadly, equal access to quality education has not been a priority in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom nationally in state share of public education funding. On average, states fund 47% of public school costs, but Pennsylvania contributes just 38%. As a result, our public schools rely heavily on local funding from property taxes. This creates massive inequalities in education funding between wealthy and low-income school districts. Additionally, our school funding formula is broken. What little money the state spends on education is allocated unfairly, with huge gaps in spending between the wealthiest districts and the poorest. The poorest districts in Pennsylvania receive $2,491 – that is 17%, less per student than the richest districts. Nationally, we are ranked second worst in school funding equity and third worst for state share of school funding.
In September, our state supreme court issued an opinion. They determined that Pennsylvania’s school-funding system violates the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient system” of education and the equal-protection clause. Governor Wolf’s new budget takes steps in the right direction. The Governor is calling for general increased funding for public schools ($100 million). The budget also includes additional funding for special education ($20 million), career and technical education ($10 million), and pre-K programs ($40 million). Unfortunately, this proposal barely touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what our students really need. By some estimates, the state needs to invest up to $3 billion to provide equitable funding to students across the state.
Republicans are already protesting what little additional education funding was proposed. But shortchanging our students’ education is pennywise and pound foolish. Our current system not only hurts teachers, students, and families – it hurts our economy. How can we recruit firms like Amazon – or help our small businesses to thrive – if we don’t invest in an educated and skilled workforce? When we fail to invest in the future of Pennsylvania’s children? We can – and must – do better.
Benjamin Franklin once said that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” It’s time to elect leaders who are committed to investing in Pennsylvania’s economic future by finally providing all children with equal access to an quality education.