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The choice: Fund schools today, or prisons and welfare tomorrow

Gregory Jordan-Detamore and Khalif Dobsonare Philadelphia Student Union members As Philadelphia public high school students, we experience firsthand the effects of inadequate school funding.

Gregory Jordan-Detamore

and Khalif Dobsonare Philadelphia Student Union members

As Philadelphia public high school students, we experience firsthand the effects of inadequate school funding.

At Masterman High School, for example, one of the best schools in the city, most classes have about 33 students. There is such a shortage of space that classes are held in the lunchroom and library.

From time to time, teachers cannot give students handouts because the photocopy machines don't work or there is a paper shortage.

The school has problems keeping new teachers. There are no sports facilities other than a gym and a roof, and science "labs" are merely tables with utility hookups.

Conditions are worse at other schools. At West Philadelphia High, classrooms are packed and taught by teachers who haven't been adequately prepared for such large classes.

Classes are not preparing students for higher education or the technical workplace. Fights occur almost daily, and counselors are few. There are a limited number of books to work out of, and none to take home.

More funding would help reduce class sizes, instead of classrooms filled with 33 or more students. Teachers would prefer to teach at a school that gives them more resources and allows them more options in the way they teach, not a school that lacks basic materials.

Taking these conditions into consideration, one has to wonder about funding. It is well known that public school funding in Pennsylvania is unequal and inadequate. The difference in funding between some school districts is astounding.

For example, Lower Merion in Montgomery County spends more than $17,000 per student, while Philadelphia spends about $10,000 per student, according to a report released in November. Called the "Costing Out Study," the report found that the School District of Philadelphia needs about $1 billion in additional funding - or about $5,000 per student.

The costing-out study also had another important finding: 471 of the 501 school districts in Pennsylvania are underfunded. This is an important finding because this means that inadequate school funding is not just a Philadelphia problem, but a problem across the state.

As public high school students, and members of the Philadelphia Student Union, a student-led organization that fights for high-quality schools, we find this to be a real shame.

This should not just be another conflict between political parties. People all across the state should be angry that their government isn't fully investing in students.

Fortunately, Gov. Rendell proposed a budget that includes more school funding. This new funding plan is based upon the formula used in the costing-out study. The formula allocates more money to school districts with greater needs, and involves spending an additional $291 million (an increase of about 6 percent) on education.

Obviously, this is not enough. Rendell's plan does call for similar funding increases for the next few years. We, and our fellow members of the Student Union, believe that this is wonderful news, as long as the annual increases also fall into place.

The time has come for us - students, teachers, parents, and ordinary citizens - to tell our representatives in Harrisburg that schools need more funding. Not tomorrow but today.

Rendell's plan provides money that, if well spent, could have a dramatic effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of students across the state, and their respective communities. Education is often considered one of the key solutions to social problems such as violence and poverty.

If we really care about ourselves, our children, and our communities, then we must fight for adequate school funding now. We are going to pay one way or the other. Would you rather pay for more prison beds and welfare checks, or better schools that create better communities?