|Pa. school funding verdict is a welcome start, but battle is far from over
We couldn’t say it better than Paul, Trinity, and Fati — all graduates of our Justice in Education program — who currently attend underfunded public schools. Here is their commentary published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
We know what it’s like to be the kids most people don’t expect much out of, going to the schools most people don’t care much about.
Two of us are seniors at Penn Wood High School, in the William Penn School District, which is tucked into a corner of Delaware County where they don’t make an HBO series. One of us is a junior at William W. Bodine High School, a North Philadelphia magnet school (which certainly does not mean it’s a magnet for state funding).
We all grew up pretty poor. But we don’t mope or whine about it. We make jokes about it, then we do our homework. We all want to go to college.
For us, Feb. 7 was a very good day, a day to smile and bask in a fresh ray of hope. Finally, a Pennsylvania court said out loud what we’ve known in our hearts since we were little kids in grade school: Our state allows huge gaps between the lush resources, rich course offerings, and sparkling facilities that kids in one school system enjoy, and the crumbling, cramped surroundings that students in systems like ours deal with every day.
A Pennsylvania court has said out loud what we’ve known in our hearts since we were little kids.
Thank you, Commonwealth Court, for saying that that’s just not OK, that it violates the state constitution, and that it has to change.
We’ve lived that unfairness since we were little kids; it’s been the dystopian backdrop to our school careers. (And, yes, we know that word.) Since kindergarten, we’ve been fed a daily diet of quiet insults:
- Having the cafeteria people at your elementary school come to your table and yank your lunch tray away, right in front of your friends, because your parents weren’t able to pay the lunch bill that month. And do it not with sorrow or apology, but with what seemed like glee. (You never tell your parents about it and so you go hungry for weeks, because you don’t want to make your mom and dad feel bad about being poor.)
- Having school bathrooms without doors on the stalls, forcing a daily choice between being embarrassed or holding it to the final bell.
- Realizing that your school doesn’t offer most of the clubs and fun activities you see at schools on TV or social media, and there’s a long waiting list for the ones it does.
- Getting a chance to go to an interschool competition at Lower Merion High, and being left speechless by how nice, gleaming, and spotless everything in that school is.
- Hearing from other kids about all the Advanced Placement courses they can choose from at their school, when your school has hardly any, even though AP credits would really cut down on the college tuition bill that is scaring you and your parents.
We have been fighting for better schools for years. Two of us hosted a podcast about the lawsuit, exploring how the court case affected the students and teachers in our district. We all took part in rallies in Harrisburg with other students; at one, nearly 80 of us formed one long line to show how many children at a Pennsylvania school have to make do with one bathroom.
We live in the school system our state’s unconstitutional funding system has created. We don’t need anyone to explain to us that the inherent inequities are about race, and stem from how some people in power perceive kids who look like us, who live where we do, who go to the schools we attend.
So, we know the court’s ruling is just a good beginning, not an end. We know the ruling doesn’t fix this broken, unjust system, but it at least puts the repair job on the to-do list of the politicians in Harrisburg.
We’re going to keep working on this issue, pressing our elected leaders in Harrisburg to do the right thing. We’re going to fight to make sure lawmakers follow the court’s directive and address the funding gap between well- and poorly resourced districts — which one estimate placed at more than $4 billion. We know that the problems with Pennsylvania schools run deep; systemic racism, generational trauma, and poverty can’t be fixed by money. But some things — like unstaffed libraries, crumbling buildings, outdated textbooks and laptops, lead in the paint and water — can be.
Yeah, it’s true that any reforms probably won’t come in time to help us. But two of us have younger siblings coming up behind us. We owe it to them to keep up the fight.
And we owe it to all the other young kids who look like us, who live where we live, who don’t deserve to be humiliated at lunch or denied a shot at the debate team or considered unworthy of access to AP classes.
So we are going to stay angry about the ongoing conditions of our schools. We are going to use that anger to persevere and continue the fight, for the sake of all the students who come after us.
Feb. 7 was a very good day, but it’s not the last good day we intend to have in this battle for school equity in the commonwealth.
Paul Vandy and Trinity Giddings are seniors at Penn Wood High School (William Penn School District), and Fatoumata Sidibe is a junior at Bodine High School (School District of Philadelphia).