Not long ago, before I became a mother and before I became the communications director at Allies for Children, I taught 8th grade reading. By day, I worked at a high-needs middle school outside of Washington, D.C. By night, I switched places with my students and headed to class to obtain my certification. It was the most challenging and most rewarding experience in my life. In part, because my students weren’t given a fair shot at success. The books were outdated. The copy machine was broken more times than you could count. And my class was so crowded I had to strain to see those sitting in the back of the room. I tried to make due with what was provided and what was donated.
I remember one class informing me that they never read a book from front to back. The next day, I requested access to the supply closet and found a class set of the novel Holes. As a group, we read the entire book each day before our lesson. With every page turned, my students fell deeper in love with reading. When my nephew came to visit, he was reading the same book. At the time, he was only nine-years-old, five years my students junior. This illustrated the huge achievement gap stretching across the country. My nephew just happened to be born into a middle class, suburban household. If he wasn’t, he too could fall behind in his studies.
Years later, the difference in the quality of education being offered is still present and apparent. You don’t have to leave Pennsylvania to witness inequalities occurring–inequalities largely attributed to the lack of a basic education funding formula. The absence of a funding formula, combined with state cuts in recent years, hits our students hard. A recent report found that 93 percent of school districts reduced staff; 50 percent furloughed teachers or other staff; 74 percent cut or reduced at least one academic program; and 57 percent increased class sizes. Without a funding formula, all students will suffer, no matter if they attend a rural, city or suburban school.
Some Pennsylvania students are speaking out about the issue through Hear Me, a youth voice platform that’s a part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Create Lab. Hear Me teamed up with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding and interviewed students across the commonwealth. They later produced a podcast about their thoughts on the state of public school funding. Now, Hear Me is giving all students, in grades K-12, a chance to be heard. My nephews weighed in on the topic. They attend a top performing charter school and don’t understand why all children aren’t on the same playing field.
Your child can speak out as well! The Campaign for Fair Education Funding wants to hear from students in schools across Pennsylvania about the way school funding impacts their educational experience. Through Hear Me, your children can let legislators know what resources they need to succeed. You can register for a Hear Me account to upload audio here.
Plus, you can find out about other ways to get involved with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding by visiting www.fairfundingpa.org/get-involved.