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ESTHER BUSH

Urban League of Pittsburgh President & CEO Esther Bush

In three weeks, a coalition of corporations, nonprofits, faith organizations and education advocates from across the state will meet in Harrisburg to send a single message to legislators ahead of state budget negotiations: put a fair school funding formula in place.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding includes more than 50 organizations all concerned with Pennsylvania’s dismal standing with respect to funding disparities among its school districts. Two recent reports place it last, or near last in the nation.

Allies for Children Executive Director Patrick Dowd, a former teacher, school board member and Pittsburgh councilman, said the scope of the coalition is unlike he’s seen but they are galvanized by the issue of improving educational equity for children across the state.

“We don’t believe money fixes everything,” he said. “But if you have children that are already challenged by poverty and give them less money—that definitely doesn’t work.”

That, according to studies published by the Education Trust and the National Forum on Educational Statistics is exactly what Pennsylvania has been doing.

The lack of a funding formula, Dowd noted, coupled with the heavy reliance on local property taxes have resulted in a 33 percent funding disparity between the wealthiest and poorest districts in the state, ranging from $8,000 per student to $24,000 per student. This, the studies say, has led to:

•93 percent of school districts reducing staff;

•50 percent furloughing teachers or other staff;

•74 percent cutting or reducing at least one academic program, and

•57 percent increasing class size.

Dowd said a new system needs to be put in place, and his organization has developed one that can address the current funding disparities. But it won’t happen overnight.

“This an old problem. We don’t expect resolution in one year or with one piece of legislation,” he said. “But we could put something in place that moves in that direction—a student-based system.”

The formula would multiply a dollar amount by number of students in a district and weight it according to factors that challenge performance such as deep or moderate poverty, non-English speakers, homelessness, etc.

“We also suggest using sparcity, the population per area and the number of charters schools. Then determine state and local funding percentage,” he said. “If state did that, it would become one of the best in the country—because it starts with the students and their needs.”

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Esther Bush, herself a former teacher, will be making the trip also, and is excited to be part of the initiative.

“This is a big deal. We have civil rights groups, religious groups, educators public and charter school advocates from across the state all coming together on behalf of our children,” she said. “It’s evolutionary and revolutionary, and I’m proud to be a part of it. But Individuals need to know they have a roll in this too, and elected officials need to see that people care about this”

That’s why she, Dowd and coalition members like A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris, Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network President Rev. Richard Freeman, and attorney Cheryl Kleinman of the Education Law Center are urging individuals to join them in Harrisburg.

For information on buses leaving for the rally, contact Mara Christy 412-586-0880 ext. 2 or email mara.christy@alliesforchildren.org.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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