More than 400 clergy, students, parents and activists packed the State Capitol to push for 100 percent of the state’s education budget to go through the fair funding formula, at a rally organized by Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER) on Wednesday afternoon.
The state passed the fair funding formula legislation in 2016, establishing that schools should be funded equitably no matter their zip code, but only seven percent of education funds are distributed through the formula.
“Who wants seven percent of fairness? No, we want 100 percent,” said State Rep. Chris Rabb (D- 200). “If the state has determined what’s fair in bipartisan fashion, why would we only accept seven percent of what that looks like?”
Rabb introduced Bill 2501 earlier this week that would have 100 percent of the education budget being distributed through the fair funding formula. Wednesday’s rally called attention to the bill and encouraged other legislators to sponsor it.
“My bill effectively ends educational apartheid in Pennsylvania. It makes sure every student, regardless what school district they live in, receive the same level of funding from the state. Right now, only seven percent of education funds are [distributed] through the fair funding formula. My bill says all districts get the same amount of money per student,” said Rabb. “We are the worst state out of all 50 in terms of equitable funding. In Pennsylvania, the most influential factor on whether you get money for education is how white your school district is. It’s whiteness and that’s essentially educational apartheid.”
Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, POWER organizer and a grandmother of two children who attend public school, participated in the rally. She said she’s seen firsthand how underfunding has impacted schools.
“My grandson’s first year in kindergarten, it was unbelievable. He was in a class with 30 children. The school had no nurse, no support staff. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This issue of not fully and adequately funding schools has a day to day impact,” she said. “The issue here is that schools that serve more affluent families have these resources. They have lower class sizes, they have all kinds of supports in place. If we are talking the neediest of the needy, low income Black and brown children and families - why are we giving them less?”
Solomon added that the funding issue not only affects Philadelphia youth, but that students living in rural areas and working-class neighborhoods in other parts of the state are also impacted. Families from smaller towns also participated in Wednesday’s rally, said Solomon, with two of the five Philadelphia buses picking up people in Plymouth Meeting and Drexel Hill.
“We had buses coming from all over the state,” said Solomon. “People are getting sick of it.”
Following several speeches by educators, clergy and students, organizers met with legislators and the governor’s office.
“We met with the Governor’s chief of staff and they were supportive. The bill already has 21 cosponsors [including] representatives across rural and urban areas; and Republicans and Democrats have shown support,” said Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER Executive Director. “We need 100 percent of our state education dollars to go through the fair funding formula. It is fair. It is just. [And] it serves all of our children across the state.”
Holston continued that he is hopeful about the bill but knows that it will take time. Even so, he said POWER is prepared to continue working for equitable education.
“We hope by the end of the year, this bill will pass,” he said. “This is a long fight. This is not a fight that will happen overnight. We will continue to push. We know there’s more pushing to be done to get justice for our children.”