On June 12, over one thousand members of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER) filled the main atrium of the Capitol building in Harrisburg. Alongside Representatives Chris Rabb, David Zimmerman, and Tom Murt, parents, teachers, and students alike spoke about the disastrous conditions of Pennsylvania’s public schools and the need to improve funding methods in what was called the “Educational Apartheid Day of Action.”
“When we looked at the statistical information, it became clear to us that racial bias was a part of education standards for our schools,” said POWER Executive Director Reverend Greg Holston as he addressed the crowd. It was because of this that he and the other speakers were calling for the support of House Bill 961.
House Bill 961 was introduced by Representative Rabb earlier this year. The bill calls for 100 percent of Pennsylvania’s public education budget to be distributed through the fair funding formula. Currently, the formula is only applied to money added to the budget after 2016, which is only 10 percent. The rest of the over six and a half billion dollar budget would continue to be distributed the same way, which has lead to massive inequities between school districts across the Commonwealth.
POWER is an organization made up of people of various faiths, ethnicities, and races from across southeastern and central Pennsylvania. The organization seeks to shine a light on systems that continue cycles of poverty, poor education, and homelessness in the Commonwealth. Specifically, their website points out that “it is the poor, communities of color and working-class families of all kinds,” that face hardships at significantly higher rates because of these systems. POWER has supported many changes throughout Pennsylvania, including bail reform, affordable health care for all, and securing a higher minimum wage.
Pennsylvania’s public education system has ranked among the worst in the nation when it comes to balanced funding. It is listed as third from the top in the number of students attending disadvantaged school districts. Students in low-income, more diverse areas of the state are significantly more likely to experience crumbling, toxic buildings filled with asbestos and mold. Students are expected to learn with outdated or no materials and in schools that need to sometimes pick and choose which services it can offer, sacrificing librarians, counselors, or even nurses.