Why I support POWER Metro’s Call for Fair Funding

Many of you have heard Mark Fifer’s needles and prods to hear more about POWER Metro’s activities, and one of the events that is coming up is on June 20th in Harrisburg, called the 100% School Funding Day of Action. I wanted to lend my voice in support of this day of action, even though I will not be able to be in attendance as I will be at the PCUSA General Assembly in St. Louis.

Given the latest example of the divides we are seeing in our society, the Eagles White House visit etc, it seems that all issues these days are taking on an overly partisan nature. But some issues are beyond being partisan and education is one of them. The state of public education in PA has been an issue for at least the last generation perhaps more, and yet still our elected officials have failed to address the issue. Twenty-five years ago, when I first started in politics, we ranked close to the bottom in education funding and achievement, and unfortunately we are still towards the bottom. If we truly hear the Gospel of message and respond to Christ’s care for children, then we must raise our voices in concern.

Now if I am honest, I have some issues with POWER Metro. I do not always approve of language that they use, I do not always appreciate their actions or lack there of, and I certainly have issue when it seems like partisan politics seems to be impetus for actions instead of faith. But I do support the idea behind the effort of POWER Metro in general, to bring the voices of the faithful into the public realm, particularly when it comes to the issue of school funding.

I support their actions to seek fair funding for all the school districts in Pennsylvania, and I do mean all. Frequently Philadelphia is used as a wedge issue on fair funding questions, in other words, opponents of fair funding point to Philadelphia and say, we do not want our tax dollars to go to Philadelphia. They point to the myriad of issues that face the school of Philadelphia, from teacher’s unions to political patronage to mismanagement, which are all challenges that Philadelphia faces. But the reality is that this is not a Philadelphia versus the rest of the state. When we speak about fair funding, we are actually talking about districts that are not in the Southeastern region of Pennsylvania.

Just like this is not a Philadelphia vs. the rest of the Commonwealth, this is not a D vs R issue either. The first step of fair funding was the creation of a formula and this formula was created by a commission lead by Rep. Mike Vereb and Sen. Pat Brown, both Republicans. Many of the districts that would benefit most are represented by Republicans, so this is not an R vs D. situation.

This is not a “coasts” vs the “T” argument either. Some political consultants have referred to Pennsylvania as having two coasts of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (which are like the East Coast and West Coast) and having the “T” (Alabama) in the Middle. But this is not the case either. The “two coasts” and the “flyover” region of Pennsylvania are all in need of new funding and a more equitable means of distribution of state aid.

And lastly, this is not a black and white issue. Yes, people of color are getting hurt the most by this inequity, but there are many poor white communities that are suffering as well. All colors will benefit from a fair funding distribution.

We, as people of faith, have to walk a fine line, we must act out of our faith without allowing our faith to be weaponized or politicized. We must speak the truth without allowing our individual “truths” to become the truth. This is never an easy thing.  But the work that POWER Metro is doing, particularly on the issue of faith funding for the school districts in Pennsylvania is faithful. It is an attempt to shine light on the inequities that should not exist.

The effort for fair funding is a state wide campaign that POWER Metro is a part of, other members include the PA Association of School Business Officials, the Pennsylvania School Board Association, Allies for Children, The PA Association of Rural and Small Schools to name just a few. This is an effort that brings a broad coalition together to work on behalf of the children of the Commonwealth of PA.

At Gladwyne, we see first hand the discrepancy between school districts, from Lower Merion to Havertown Township to Norristown to Philadelphia. We spend time in Pierce working with children whose school does not have adequate funding for libraries and we read of many school districts locally who are struggling with budget issues and are looking to cut music and arts programs.

We have also read about Toxic Charity, and how just offering services without providing for structural change can lead to issues of dependency. One of the reasons I support the funding issue is because Pennsylvania needs to have a serious conversation about how we fund school programs. It is clear that property taxes and business taxes are not a system which allow local authorities to provide for local education funding. When gambling was legalized, it was hoped that this additional revenue would help, but it has not. Unless we push, this conversation will not happen. Notice I am not giving a solution but the reality is, we need to raise the issue so that together we can all agree on a better way of doing it.

I would encourage you all to spend some time checking the resources that are available through POWER Metro or on this website. Please consider attending on the 20th and lift your voice in concern.