On Tuesday, June 21, I joined the Pennsylvania Principals Association for a news conference on the request for an increase in funding for public education throughout the state. In my role I was representing POWER. Four principals from across the state describe the impact of the shortfall in funding was having in their districts. These included increasing classes sizes, discontinuing programs, and staff cuts. Following their presentations, Rev. Anne Thatcher of St. Martins in the Fields, Chestnut Hill introduced POWER; I was last to speak. What follows is a rough simulation of my remarks.

I stand here on of behalf of POWER with the Principals Association to demand that the legislature increase the funding for basic K-12 education by $400 million ink this year’s budget –

I stand here as Professor of Urban Studies at Eastern University. My research has shown clearly that a healthy and strong local school is vital to the health and well-being of the community in which that school resides.

I stand here as a parent of three daughters, who all went through the public school system. I myself am a product of public schools.

As a member of POWER, as a scholar, and most importantly as a parent, I am calling on the legislature to pass a $400 million increase this year for the public schools in Pennsylvania.

I heard a poem by Langton Hughes recently that has been on my mind as we have been coming here each Tuesday for the last 6 weeks

Looks like what drives me crazy has no effect on you

But I ‘m gonna keep on at it till it makes you crazy too

This is a beautiful building, but there is something in the air that makes people crazy because what I have found when I have been coming here, is it just crazy

Politicians like to talk about responsibility in education – so let’s talk about responsibility

  • If a parent fails to get their school on time, the school calls the parent because they are responsible to make sure their children get to school ready to learn.
  • If a student doesn’t do their homework, the teacher says they aren’t being a responsible student and they get a bad grade
  • If a teacher doesn’t prepare his/her lessons for students, doesn’t show up on time, the principal says they are not being responsible and has to take corrective action
  • If a principal isn’t running a school effectively, if teachers don’t feel supported and safe, and if their building is not run smoothly, that principal is said to be irresponsible and could lose his/her job
  • YET when it comes to the legislature, when they don’t provide the school districts and these principals with their teachers and students the necessary support, they want to make excuses why it can’t be so– that is neglecting their responsibility to provide our school districts with the resources necessary to provide every child in this Commonwealth with a “thorough and efficient system of public education”

Things like that drive me crazy

We’ve been coming here talking to legislators and aides about the need to increase the basic education funding, and we’ve heard things like “This problem took a long time to be created and it will be a long time to fix it” – Ok so what are we waiting for? The time is now to adequately fund our schools.

We hear things like: Oh school districts have enough money, they are just mismanaging it – Really, I ask anyone of our legislators to spend time in our underfunded schools and show us where the excess is. Better yet, send your children and grandchildren to school in those districts. When buildings are in disrepair, when teachers have to provide their own pens, paper and even toilet paper, when there are no aids in classrooms, no librarians and a nurse and a counselor who can show up once a week because they have to cover multiple schools. – show me the excess.

I defy these legislators to their jobs without the aids, the administrative assistants, the interns, the technology, the IT support, and the toilet paper in their offices. Let them provide their own paper, their own pens. Let them bring their own toilet paper to the office, and then tell me about excess!

We hear: We have to face the political realities. But here is a political reality: by law “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” That is the state constitution, that’s the law, that is the political reality.

We are only asking the legislature to do what they have been elected to do. We are asking to take responsibility for providing for the needs of the students in our underfunded districts across the state.

And to hear these excuses drives us crazy

I spoke recently with a young middle school Social Studies teacher in one of our Philadelphia schools. He told me he wasn’t sure he could continue. He is being asked to take on my more students and handle more administrative tasks because his school, like so many others, is facing more cuts. He hasn’t had a raise in 4 years. He doesn’t blame the principal of the school; he understands they are under financial constraints too. But he said “There comes a point when I can’t do what I have been hired to do.” And he is thinking about just walking away from teaching. Here is a bright young teacher and his spirit is broken. Yes, there are teachers and principals who persist in these degrading conditions, but at what cost to our students, and what cost to those teachers, and administrators?

We owe this teacher more than that. We owe his principal more than that. We owe more to the principals standing with me and the staff and teachers at their schools. And most importantly we owe the students in our schools more than that. It is our responsibility and the Legislature’s responsibility to do better by these folks. Not just a fiscal responsibility, not just a legal responsibility, but a moral and ethical responsibility.

To do less, well it drives us crazy

We who are in POWER stand with the Principals Association in demanding that the legislature pass the $400 million increase in basic K-12 funding for this year, and stop driving us crazy!