We Need to Stop Pitting Cash-Strapped Schools Against One Another

Imagine a dinner table laden with food and drink, covered end to end with the finest china, porcelain and crystal. Wine glasses filled with the finest vintages, platters with the choicest meats and vegetables. The folks at the table eat and drink their fill, reclining in their chairs in gluttonous satisfaction. The waitstaff clears the table and puts all the leftovers into Tupperware.

Now imagine a smaller table in an adjacent room where hungry folks eagerly await their meal. The Tupperware is dropped onto the center of the table with a single serving spoon.

Chaos ensues as those at the table, overcome with hunger, begin to fight among themselves, biting and kicking as they struggle to grasp the serving spoon, starving for their portion of the leftovers.

This is exactly what happens in states with regressive funding formulas, among them Pennsylvania. Schools in cash-strapped districts, starved for the dollars left over from the big table serving wealthy districts, fight amongst themselves for every left-over dollar.

Current developments in Pennsylvania illustrate this phenomenon.

Governor Wolf is currently pushing a charter school law that would readjust the budget formula so that $280 million would be redirected from public charter schools back to traditional public schools.

Seventy-thousand of Philadelphia’s children attend brick and mortar public charter schools. That is one out of every three children in Philadelphia. And, on top of that already huge number, there are likely thousands more waiting for the chance to enroll.

These aren’t just numbers. These are families. Families who are trying to do whatever they can to provide a quality education for their children that so many other families of privilege access through private school tuitions, magnet school entrance exam test prep or exclusive housing costs of desirable school districts.

For so many of these families, their neighborhood traditional public schools have, sometimes for generations, failed to live up to their charge. This, however, is not entirely the fault of these schools, but rather the fault of the baked-in systems that have bankrupted Philadelphia education.

All across the country, cash-strapped schools are pitted against one another for the scraps left behind by wealthier districts who benefit from classist and racist budgetary funding formulas that makes it possible for a neighboring wealthy suburb to be able to devote $28,000 per student, while merely 3 miles away, a student in Philadelphia gets $14,000.

This is institutional racism at some of its most pernicious levels. It bakes injustice into the very system of education that is supposed to be a lever out of poverty and Pennsylvania, instead of being anomalous, is rather an example of a phenomenon that exists all over the country.

We can no longer have cash-strapped districts fight amongst themselves for the leftovers from the grown-up table. If we want to serve all kids, in all communities, and in all zip codes, then let’s ditch the rotten funding formulas that bankrupt our cities and rural communities and stop pitting intra-district schools against one another.

Zachary Wright 
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...

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