Last week we had one of three family orientations to launch the 2017-18 school year. One of the messages I shared with families was that their community school has almost one million dollars less today than it had 10 years ago to educate our community’s Black children.
One. Million. Dollars. Less.
Why? In a nutshell, many of Pennsylvania’s state legislators don’t believe that our students—particularly our students of color—are worthy of a well-funded education. Education is one of the main areas where people show their intractable attitudes towards investing in Black youth.
Last year, state Senator John Eichelberger essentially admitted that he doesn’t believe “urban kids” can handle a rigorous education. His remarks were insensitive and exposed his bias and racism.
Prejudice like this is hardly unusual, but it matters here because Eichelberger is the chairman of Pennsylvania’s Senate Education Committee. He leads a committee responsible for making policy that is supposed to support all children. But, when you have a tainted mindset, a mindset that sets low expectations for Black children, how can your policies be trusted?
Low expectations aren’t limited to the Keystone State. Justin Minkel, a nationally recognized teacher, describes policymakers’ mindsets towards equity and justice for all children:
A few years ago, I was on a panel with an Arkansas state representative. During lunch, he said, “If the Republicans take the state house, we’re going to take a hard look at the Arkansas Department of Education’s formula for adequacy.”
Translation: We want to spend even less money on the education of the poorest children in our state. When it comes to those children, adequacy is too expensive. They deserve less than that.
Justin makes the case that policymakers determine what is deserved based off of the race and background of children. Pennsylvania is no different than Arkansas or many other states in this regard.
The callous attitudes of these uninformed and small-minded politicians are sabotaging our public schools.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.