THOUGH THE 100 congregations we represent hail from different faiths, we are united by our belief that each person is made in the divine image. But Pennsylvania faces a school-funding crisis that stands in the way of living according to that value.
Districts across the state are squeezing more kids into each classroom, cutting counselors that are a vital lifeline and taking away the music classes that are the only way for some kids to connect to school. Low-income children, from both communities of color and poor white communities, are hit harder than most.
That's why we prayed as the newly formed Basic Education Funding Commission held its first meeting on July 24, beginning a process to fix our broken school-funding system. These officials have been commissioned with a holy task, one that will require great moral courage. They are charged with creating a funding formula, like what 47 states have but Pennsylvania lacks.
Such a formula would put kids from districts like rural Mount Carmel, where the district has only $8,659 to spend per child, per year, on more equal footing with kids from districts like Lower Merion, which currently spends $22,962 per student, per year. The lack of education funding is affecting our entire state, hurting schools in rural, suburban and urban districts. The districts that have not seen a major change in education quality have done so by shifting a greater and greater burden onto families: for example, 18 of 21 school districts in Montgomery County have raised property taxes in the last three years.
We pray that Sen. Pat Browne and Rep. Mike Vereb, the commission's co-chairmen, find the strength for moral leadership at this difficult time. As their charge stands, the commission is responsible only for how money is distributed, and not the total amount of money we would need to give every child the education he or she deserves.
There is clearly bipartisan agreement to fix the current approach to school funding - a mishmash of onetime fixes and cobbled together political deals.
We are tired of being told the myth of scarcity, when lawmakers are simply prioritizing corporations over children and families. Our state is worth more.
Bishop Dwayne Royster
executive director, Philadelphians Organized to Witness,
Empower & Rebuild
The Rev. Richard Freeman
board president, Pennsylvania
Interfaith Impact Network
executive director, Congregations United for Neighborhood Action