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Underfunded Pennsylvania school district students go out as lawmakers struggle over funding – NBC10 Philadelphia

Naira Miller didn’t dwell on the shortcomings of her education when speaking at her high school commencement. Instead, she talked about everything she and her classmates had accomplished.

Even in the cramped, unair-conditioned classrooms that get stuffy as summer approaches, they still perform at a high level — a far cry from earlier this year when the heat didn’t work and it was too cold to concentrate. Athletes set new records even on dirt tracks that did not meet state standards.

On a hot June morning at the Hagan Arena at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, Mr. Miller said little about how Pennsylvania’s public schools have failed, graduating from Pennwood High School’s 23rd grade. praised. She told her fellow graduates and their families that they were “the fastest class ever.”

“We left our mark not just here, but in every room we entered,” she said.

But overcoming adversity wasn’t just a graduation theme.

A few months ago, a Pennsylvania court acknowledged the reality Penn Wood students face every day. Students in the William Penn District and five other students in Pennsylvania are not receiving the education that the state’s constitution guarantees. The court ordered the state to change the system, but did not elaborate on how or how quickly.

Pursuing funding equity in court has led financially-challenged Pennsylvania school districts to follow a well-known path of school reform. For decades, school districts across the country, plagued by resource imbalances, have taken to the courts to demand a fair response from the states.

These lawsuits are not the solution once thought. In many cases, legislation falls short of the true costs of bringing balance to public education. There are also cases in which large-scale reform efforts have produced short-term change but failed to sustain their success when the political or economic climate turned unfavorable.

Maura McInerney, legal director of the Center for Education Law, who represented the petitioner’s district in the lawsuit, said some states have seen better academic and student performance as a result of more state funding. Stated.

“We’ve certainly seen a history of investing in school funds that has resulted in dramatic change,” she says.

In Pennsylvania, whether the legislature is amended depends on the budget-making process in a split legislature. Encouraged by the court’s decision, House Democrats this year sought to spend more money on public education than Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s initial proposals. But the bill hit a wall in the Republican-controlled Senate, which proposed a more modest spending plan and sought to push for school vouchers, but met with fierce opposition in the other Senate under Democratic control. rice field.

But students like Miller continue to attend schools in districts that are forced to address the gap with limited resources.

William Penn District used the federal COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund to hire reading professionals to address the achievement gap, but that funding will also run out this year. Superintendent Eric Bekoats said the district wants to keep its position, but that could mean raising taxes on communities that are already among the highest taxed communities in the state.

Contracts for mental health services paid for with federal funds are another support program that school districts may not be able to maintain. It was important for Miller, who was struggling to find someone to confide in. With more teens, especially teen girls, struggling with mental health issues in the aftermath of COVID-19, this need is only exacerbated by William Penn and others.

“I’ve changed therapists about three times this year,” Miller said. “So each time I had to meet someone new. I don’t have a student I want to tell, I have a lot to deal with.”

Poor equipment is also difficult to handle. There are no real scientific laboratories in Pennwood. Rooms are small and classes can be crowded. The heating and ventilation system should be updated. Schools within a district should share resources, including teachers and staff.

The district has a 10-year plan for building improvements that includes ideas for what a 21st-century learning environment should look like, but doesn’t have the funding to support it.

“We need resources now,” Beecoats said in early June. “The current budget proposal submitted to the board reveals a funding gap.”

Miller’s classmate, Paul Vandy, said he had no idea what other students had until he and Miller went to a nearby high school’s speech and debate team. I felt like I had stepped into a high school that I had seen on TV.

Gorgeous white tile floors, there were robots in the halls. The students had brand new books and their own laptops. The campus also had multiple gyms and a beautiful and expansive dance space.

Miller recalled another difference that’s hard to overlook.

“I think I even went home and wrote down in my diary the similarities and differences between our schools, and the main difference was the skin color of the students,” she said. “My school is black-majority, but their school is white-majority. I think it was the moment.”

Vandi’s mother, Musu Momo, said her son came home nervous and told him about the impressive school library and the fact that there is a swimming pool on campus.

“I wish I had the money to move to a better community and send them to better schools,” she said. “But for now, this is where we are, so I’m just trying to encourage them.”

Despite trying to lead a normal life at school, Vandi said “things are collapsing around us.”

One of his favorite clubs, Mock Trials, fell apart after the team’s former coach left for another district. Vandy said the students worked with the principal over the summer to see if another staff member would pick them up, but there was no system in place to see if someone would pick them up. .

“We have to deal with that to some degree,” Vandy said. “That’s all you can really do.”

Often Miller and other students stepped up. They did so to make sure their class had a yearbook.

Miller plans to attend Spelman College for performing arts and drama. But during her high school years, she “had little to no money” to support stage productions, she said.

Nira’s mother, Nicole Miller, grew up in the neighborhood. She was aiming to complete her teaching degree, but when she and her husband decided to have a family, she moved back to her hometown because she loved her community so much. . She teaches at the same elementary school she attended. Many things haven’t changed in decades, she said, right down to the smell of the building.

Her love for her homeland came into conflict with the district’s difficulties. She worries about Neela’s younger brother, who will soon be in sixth grade, but he already feels that things are different elsewhere.

“I don’t want my children to feel that they are lacking,” Nicole said. “I don’t want you to feel that you are lacking.” I don’t want you to feel unworthy of all these things. ”

Despite the lack of facilities and resources, the school community has also made strides in many ways. One of Nicole’s childhood best friends, the former guidance counselor now works as an administrator at Pennwood. However, the administrator will continue to help Nylla with guidance, wearing her counselor’s hat, if needed. This led to jokes about how many people Naira brought into the admin’s office to connect with support.

“Having people work multiple jobs is exactly how this district does it, and that’s what people love to do here,” Nicole said. “They don’t say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ No, I don’t have time for that.” Because that’s what I need right now.”

It’s not available everywhere, she says, but it’s also a fine line. More teachers are leaving the field, with Pennsylvania having the highest turnover this year. Asking fewer people to work more can lead to burnout, resulting in even fewer people rushing to work.

The path after high school is complicated. When Vandy started applying to college, senior-class guidance counselors were booked days at a time and were responsible for hundreds of students. He had a lot to learn on his own.

“Even if everyone is doing their best and trying to keep things running smoothly, the circumstances around us make it difficult for us to access these resources for help and advice whenever we need them. I can’t,” Mr. Vandy said. Since then, he decided to attend Thomas Jefferson University to study psychology.

Still, Miller didn’t say much about the school’s shortcomings when addressing her classmates as senior class president. When she thinks of Penn Wood, she thinks of her mother. Her mother’s friends graduated from high school and returned as teachers. She thinks about relying on her own friends to get through high school and graduate in a small school district compared to her other districts.

At a ceremony rife with inside jokes, Mariah Carey told her friends as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas that the gift of class was a sign-off wall and that all graduates would leave their mark on them forever. Said it was the place. at Penwood High School.

She said it serves as a reminder that there is more to school than deficits.

“We’re more than just a piece of the case, and more than everything we’re missing,” she said.


Brooke Schultz is a member of the Associated Press/United States Congressional Press Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that sends journalists to local newsrooms to report on cover-up issues.

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/students-in-shortchanged-pa-school-districts-plug-away-while-lawmakers-dither-over-funding/3604868/ Underfunded Pennsylvania school district students go out as lawmakers struggle over funding – NBC10 Philadelphia

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