Education Justice Event | April 5, 2021 | Martin Luther King High School | Philadelphia
As many others have said and will say today, we continue to struggle to provide what Dr. King called “genuine equality” on all levels, including in education.
While segregation has been legally dead for decades, it has taken many different forms, including how we educate our kids. I have been an educator and a labor leader here in Philadelphia for more years than I care to admit, and now President of AFT Pennsylvania for two years. Year in, and year out, we face the same barriers to the education of our children: the money being spent on public education by our state government is inadequate and unequal.
Through legislation and lawsuits, one of which is going forward this fall, public education advocates like those here today, have attempted to illustrate the gulf in funding between whiter, wealthier districts, and districts with a higher population of black, indigenous, and students of color like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Pottstown, and Scranton or poorer districts in places like the Shenandoah Valley and Fayette County. And, though Pennsylvania created a fair funding formula in 2016, only 11%, of school funding runs through this formula. Our calls to expand that share have gone largely unheard by a state legislature that governs by minority rule.
It’s easy for those in power to say education funding should be better, or that, in suburban school districts where homeowners shoulder much of the funding burden, school property taxes ought to be lower. But the money to educate our students must come from somewhere. Governor Wolf wants to make our state’s tax system, one of the most unfair in the nation, work for everyday Pennsylvania families while increasing funding to our schools.
In May of 1967, Dr. King delivered a speech at the Butler Street YMCA, in which he said:
“it didn’t cost the nation anything to integrate hotels and motels. It didn’t cost the nation a penny to guarantee the right to vote. Now we are in a period where it will cost the nation billions of dollars to get rid of poverty, to get rid of slums, to make quality integrated education a reality.”
Ensuring that all kids receive a thorough and efficient education, as it is guaranteed in Pennsylvania’s Constitution, will not be free. And the places that we find that money may not always be popular. But we here today all know that it is the right thing to do. So, let us live Dr. King’s legacy and do what is right and make the investments in public education that Governor Wolf is proposing, and that our urban and rural districts so desperately need.