It’s not just the adults who are concerned about the fiscal health of Philadelphia’s public schools.
The very youngsters who rely on the city’s school district for an education are worried about the state of the system as well.
State Rep. Pam DeLissio invited some of those concerned students to speak alongside her during a sidewalk address on Thursday evening outside of Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School in Roxborough.
The “Rally for School Funding,” as it was dubbed, was designed to raise awareness of the budgetary problems faced by the largest school district in Pennsylvania.
“What we need is a commitment from the commonwealth that education is a priority,” DeLissio said during the event.
A tax up in smoke
Alluding to the failed cigarette tax proposal that would have added $2 onto a pack of smokes purchased within the city limits, DeLissio spoke about how “politics … got in the way of good policy.”
Earlier in the summer, it looked as though the cigarette tax would pass the legislature, but things went sour after some lawmakers took issue with amendments that were tacked onto the bill.
While DeLissio took the time to say her piece, the legislator didn’t hog the microphone, instead allowing students themselves to speak about the dire financial predicament in which the school district finds itself.
Students speaking up
“We ask the school district: Please do not cut music,” Zoe Magee, a fifth grader at Cook Wissahickon.
“I hope that Harrisburg will find a way to increasing funding for Philadelphia schools,” added rising freshman Jessica Craighead, a former student of Green Woods Charter School.
Chelsey Deal, a senior at Saul Agricultural High School, a unique bastion of farming education in Upper Roxborough, spoke about the importance of school supplies, and how limited funding means limitations when it comes to what students can and can’t do inside the classroom.
Elijah Espinosa, an eighth grader at Cook Wissahickon, said that young students such as himself should not have to spend their summer break worrying about the state of the district’s finances, but that’s just what they find themselves doing.
Shyonna Williams, a 11th grader at Lankenau High School, said schools must have the essentials, such as books, gym equipment, full-time nurses, “and teachers that will stay.”
Williams asked for people to “hear our problems and make a change in our school district.”
A Saul High School senior named Rodger Selby, Jr., spoke about class size, noting that with an increased number of students comes less individualized attention.
It’s difficult for teachers to lead larger classes, Selby said, and students’ grades often suffer when they can’t get one-on-one instruction.
Selby also spoke about staff layoffs, noting that students like him who aim to go to college and need to speak to guidance counselors can’t get the help they need when their counselors are laid off due to budget cuts.
DeLissio praised the students for their courage in speaking out, saying that the young people “just blew me away.”
“This is great, telling it exactly like it is,” she said. “Maybe we need to repeat this performance at the capitol in Harrisburg.”
Support outside the city
The rally also included speeches by a city principal, a parent, a teacher from Saul and a 6-year-old named Emma Trostle, who said she wishes her school had a library.
“I’ve been nothing short of wowed and impressed by the ladies and gentlemen who spoke here this evening,” DeLissio said.
DeLissio stressed that school funding cries are not just limited to city Democrats; suburban Republicans in the legislature also see the importance of keeping public school adequately funded.
State Rep. Bill Adolph, a Republican from Delaware County, was invited to speak at the rally, but couldn’t make it due to a prior engagement, DeLissio said.
But, the DeLissio noted, Adolph wanted the crowd to know that there is bipartisan support for education funding in the General Assembly.