We are at a moment that could define the fortunes of countless families and children who moved into the suburbs of Philadelphia for the same prospect of advancement as so many others who preceded them decades before.

We either commit to financially fortifying suburban public schools that have been stepping-stones into middle-class life. Or we can watch them buckle, and potentially bury a generation of people and suburban neighborhoods beneath the wreckage that would follow.

Children from working-class and middle-class homes, including Black and Hispanic students whose families are chasing the suburban dream of upward mobility in suburbia, are on the back end of big achievement gaps in increasingly diversifying districts across Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.

This is among the findings of an analysis by Public Citizens for Children and Youth. The achievement gap is visible across the region — even in more affluent districts such as Abington, which sought to attack inequity years ago with measures that included expanding access to advanced placement classes for all students. PCCY found that the worst of the inequities, however, are playing out in the region’s most financially squeezed suburban districts.

Black and Hispanic students have fared disproportionately worse, academically and in terms of being on the receiving end of the harshest forms of discipline, than white peers. Much more so in communities where money for learning and extra enrichment has been harder than ever to find, thanks to state policy strangling all but the wealthiest, most self-sufficient districts in recent decades.

There is no ignoring this without welcoming a worsening calamity.

PCCY’s report places a welcome spotlight on a dynamic region of some 2.5 million Pennsylvanians. The demographics of many suburban towns outside Philadelphia have shifted in recent years toward a more economically, racially, and culturally diverse tapestry.

Schools, however, have been contending with serving often complex student needs. That includes language barriers at home to educational delays whose roots reach back to a lack of access to preschool. Districts have sought to respond, however, with budgets squeezed by years-long underfunding by politically conservative legislative majorities in Harrisburg.

The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified the challenges. Even affluent districts could not escape prolonged closures and disruption to their students this past year.

Fixing the racial achievement gap is a moral imperative. It also goes hand in hand with stabilizing all of public education in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Public schools are pillars of American economic mobility. We must take care of them in order to take care of our neighbors in need.

“It doesn’t really make sense to expect services and resources to magically appear if there’s no adequate funding consistently to these school districts,” Tomás Hanna, superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District, said as PCCY presented its survey findings at a news conference Thursday. He was joined by fellow superintendent Jeffrey Fecher of Abington and others.

The report recommended racial equity accountability measures, including annual school district and school buildings audits measuring how students are doing moving forward.

But Hanna also sagely noted the elephant in the room: There is only so much you can address without enough money on the table to work with.

“You can’t do things,” said Hanna, a veteran of both New York City and Philadelphia public schools, “if you don’t have the services and resources in place to get them done.”

As my colleague Maddie Hanna reported about the PCCY survey: “Black and Hispanic students scored worse than white classmates in reading and math on state standardized tests in 2019 — with average gaps ranging from 16 to 27 points. ... The trend carried across almost all of the 61 suburban school districts, with just one exception, and has been widening in most districts over the last seven years, the report said.”

» READ MORE: Black and Hispanic students in Philly suburbs are disciplined more harshly than white peers, underrepresented in AP classes, report finds

It’s notable that PCCY found the achievement gap to be worse in districts that had tighter budgets. Where districts were more affluent and in communities where the cost of entry is a much more expensive house, the racial achievement data looked better.

That is because Pennsylvania largely underwrites schools through a controversial approach that heavily relies on local property taxes. This has been destructive to lower-income and middle-income districts that have either a dearth of wealthy landowners or commercial tax base. State lawmakers have drastically reduced state funding for public schools over the last generation.

As Spotlight PA reported last month about Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget with school funding increases: “Pennsylvania ranks 47th in the nation for the share of K-12 public education funding that comes from the state, a path that began after the state stopped reimbursing school districts for 50% of their costs in the 1980s.”

In our region, that translates to a stark divide.

“Suburban school districts where over 50% of the students are Black or Hispanic have the least to spend on instruction,” PCCY reported. “Conversely, districts with less than 10% of their student population identifying as Black or Hispanic spend the highest amount on instruction.”

So how does this get fixed — the money thing?

For one, a school funding lawsuit against Pennsylvania is expected to go to trial this year. If the plaintiff schools prevail in proving the commonwealth’s funding approach is in violation of its Constitution, the Republican-controlled legislature may finally be forced to pony up.

» READ MORE: Trial scheduled in landmark Pa. school-funding case

Also, PCCY executive director Donna Cooper said, her group is part of a coalition of 100 school districts from across Pennsylvania advocating jointly for more state aid. They include politically isolated Southeastern Pennsylvania, where the Democrat-dominated region has virtually no clout in the legislature, along with counties that are home to Republican caucus leaders.

“That is a concerted effort to broaden the political champions for remedying Pennsylvania’s school funding crisis,” Cooper said.

The remedy, if we demand it, will help us all.