When I was a student at Agnes Irwin in Bryn Mawr, I had access to libraries, counselors, sports, and many advanced courses that piqued my interest. I complained about how terrible school was, but I knew I had everything I needed to identify and pursue a successful career of my choice. Then, in January of 2019, I moved to the William Penn School District, where I began to attend Penn Wood High School.
It was a culture shock. For one, 92% of the students at Penn Wood are Black, vs. 9% at Agnes Irwin. At Penn Wood, there are wires hanging from the ceiling, the cafeteria is overcrowded, and the guidance counselor is only accessible when she isn’t doing another job or dealing with hundreds of other kids.
The library is often locked. I found that out when I went to check out a book for summer reading during lunch, and was told students can only go to the library at certain times because they had to find a teacher with a free period to supervise.
Penn Wood and Agnes Irwin are only a few miles apart, but could not be more different. The contrast has prompted me to learn more about what drives these disparities, and how to address them.
In April, I shared my story during a press conference announcing the launch of a new campaign designed to help underprivileged schools across the state. The campaign, called Level Up, would provide more funding to the 100 poorest school districts in the state, including mine.
Pennsylvania gives relatively little state funding to school districts, ranking 44th in the nation for the state share of funding for K-12 education. As a result, communities often rely on local taxes to support public schools; this works well in wealthy areas, but worse in poor neighborhoods. On average, these wealthy school districts can spend $4,800 more on each student than the least wealthy school districts.
The lack of funding is so harsh that my school district has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Education for its failure to adequately and equitably fund public education throughout Pennsylvania. This is a historic move, but one that likely won’t help me and my peers in time. This month, I will graduate from a school that is chronically underfunded, under-resourced, and ignored.
The Level Up bill (HB 1167), introduced by State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, would create a $100 million fund and distribute it to the 100 most underfunded school districts in the state, representing 20% of the total. These funds would go to my school district and several others in our region, including the Philadelphia School District.
Many school districts across the state would benefit from this boost in funding. In 2016, Eric County considered closing all of its high schools due to poor funding.
The bill was referred to the Education Committee for discussion; if approved, it will go to the full House for consideration. If this bill becomes law, Level Up could pay for one more class that I’m passionate about, one more librarian to check out my books, one more guidance counselor to talk to, and one more fighting chance for success.
These are all steps in the right direction.
No student should have to wonder about their future or whether they can compete with peers because they have to make do with the little they have. No student should have water droplets falling on their head, or freeze during winter when inside unrenovated school buildings.
And no student should have to beg the state to support their education.
Even though my time in high school is over, I believe every Pennsylvanian student deserves access to a good education, and I think Level Up will help give us that chance. Tell your legislators to support equitable education and to sign on to the Level Up proposal. Inadequate school funding isn’t fair or right.
Victoria Monroe is an honors student, athlete, and activist at Penn Wood High School. She currently lives in Yeadon and will attend Pennsylvania State University, where she plans to study architecture.