Why Aren’t They Funding Our Schools? They Don’t Think We Can Learn.

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
Sharif El-Mekki
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.


  1. As a society, we have a civic responsibility to cultivate our children’s love of learning, their critical and creative literacy, and their democratic engagement — with the aim of improving the quality of life for all, now and in the future.

    As educators, we have a responsibility to exercise stewardship of our profession. All of our children should be able to attend beautiful, well-funded schools with engaging curricula, student-driven instruction, and diverse assessments.

  2. Current Educational Policy on city, state, and national levels involve miseducating and / or under-educating children of color and poor children. This policy is consistent with economic and power politics mastered by the Republicans but denied by the Democrats. It supports institutional racism, marginalizing communities of color and poor communities, community displacement through speculation and Gentrification, creating and maintaining a permanent underclass of communities in deep poverty, and much more. History should have taught us that our resilience, though wonderful, is insufficient in overcoming systemic oppression. Our Communities of color and our poor communities will thrive when we the oppress commit ourselves to pulling together to overcome the injustices we face. Schools in our neigborhoods, traditional and charter, tasked with educating our children must be answerable to us by our insistence, not by their permission. When we are organized, ready, and take control of the institutions in our communities by holding them accountable to our desired and specified outcomes as well as processes; we will see significant and decisive improvements in our educational systems, our individual and family support systems, job training and readiness programs, zoning and community planning, and so forth. This is our struggle, and we know from history “power concedes nothing without a struggle without a demand.” (Frederick Douglass)


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