Education Equity Forum in Germantown addresses funding disparities in Philly public schools

Need in Deed tackled funding challenges in Philadelphia public schools with a community-led discussion and call to action.

Community members gather at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown for education equity

Community members gather at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown for education equity forum led by Need-in-Deed (Mariyum Rizwan/WHYY)

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Philadelphia schools have long grappled with funding disparities that have not only hindered the quality of education provided to students, but also the working environments of its teachers.

To better understand the issue, Need in Deed, a Philadelphia based teaching network, hosted their first ever Education Equity Forum to allow for an open discussion among community members, educators and parents on Monday night from 6 to 8 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

The forum was held the day before Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled the budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, proposing a significant increase in education funding in Philadelphia. About $872 million of the $1.1 billion education funding increase would go toward low-income schools, a proposal which has gained support from public school advocates and teachers’ unions.

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This proposal was fueled by a 2014 Pennsylvania Supreme Court lawsuit that claims the governor and other legislative leaders and education officials failed to uphold constitutional obligations that provide fair and equitable education for students in lower-income Pa. school districts.

The event began with an “informed investigation” led by Need in Deed teachers Kate Collier, Yalon-Dirickson-Martin, PhD, and Emily Goedde, PhD, and social studies specialist for the School District of Philadelphia, Tyra Washington. The investigation allowed for community members to read and discuss the article by Roseann Liu, PhD, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which explores how racial disparities in school funding are not a matter of “bad policy” but a lack of value in children’s lives.

“Racial inequity in school funding is not, primarily, a problem rooted in poor policy making; it is a problem rooted in the differential valuing of children’s lives,” Liu writes in the article. “Those who reject the premise that certain children are worthy of greater educational investment because of the color of their skin should also reject the delay tactics of Republican lawmakers.”

An open panel moderated by Debbie Wei, social studies curriculum specialist for the district, featured the contributions of Need-in-Deed Executive Director Kyra Atterbury, Councilmember Kendra Brooks, Roseann Liu, PhD, professor of Educational Studies and Asian American Studies at Swarthmore College, and Erika Kitzmiller, PhD, term assistant professor in education at Barnard College.

Discussions included race versus class within education equity in the commonwealth, budget and funding disparities, program cuts and holding elected officials accountable in enforcing equitable funding.

Budget cuts lead to program cuts, and in many Philadelphia schools, art and music programs are     the first to go, panelists said.

“For me music was a lifeline in school,” Atterbury said. “I loved it. It was one of the reasons why I came to school. When you start to talk about cutting it, it just became something that was endangering. You can’t take this away from children. Every child deserves to be able to find [their] passion at school.”

From left to right, Dr. Erika Kitzmiller, Dr. Roseann Lie, Councilmember Kendra Brooks, Need-in-Deed Executive Director Kyra Atterbury and moderator Debbie Wei
Event panelists, from left to right, Dr. Erika Kitzmiller, Dr. Roseann Liu, Councilmember Kendra Brooks, Need-in-Deed Executive Director Kyra Atterbury and moderator Debbie Wei discuss education equity and funding disparities. (Mariyum Rizwan/WHYY)

Another major discussion included whether rural and urban schools within Pennsylvania are receiving the same treatment. “What about the poor white kids?” voiced one community member.

“It shouldn’t be race versus class,” Washington said. “It should be class and race. I forget who said it on the panel, like Black and brown students shouldn’t have to fall on the altar of cross organizing. But we should be able to talk about both. We should. We’re not in opposition. I want the rural schools in Pennsylvania funded as well. We shouldn’t be fighting each other. We should be fighting the wealthy people who keep us from being funded.”

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While some community members in attendance were hopeful about the future of Philadelphia’s public school system, others were not as inclined.

“If folks think for a minute that those wealthy people, all those well-meaning liberal, friendly as a puppy dog white people in Chestnut Hill, says the white man from North Philadelphia and the Main Line are gonna give up what they have to help them, they have never been more wrong about anything in their lives,”  William Donahugh, a public developer from North Philly said.

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