Montgomery County, like the rest of the country, is in crisis mode. In this unprecedented era, millions of students are at home when they should be in school learning. We appreciate the efforts of local school district leaders to ensure that our students don’t go hungry while they are out of school. We also applaud every principal and teacher working tirelessly to instruct our students by any means necessary to keep our students learning. Your commitment to our children is undeniable. As the parent of two children in Montgomery County public schools, I sincerely thank you.
In contrast, we are incensed by the harsh realities confronting many of our students as they attempt to return to “class”. Many districts and schools in our region lack the infrastructure and resources to educate students outside of the classroom. While the Commonwealth has known for years that Pennsylvania has the greatest educational disparities in the nation, it has taken a crisis to reveal what many have already known – you can’t educate students if you don’t have the necessary resources to do it. Not in a building and certainly not online.
Not surprisingly, when the Governor ordered schools to close, better resourced districts like Abington, where I live, could provide families in need with devices so that they could keep learning during the crisis while students in districts without adequate resources or funding like Pottstown have to wait.
It didn’t have to be this way. The state of Pennsylvania has had years to remedy this situation by adequately funding our public schools and has failed to do so time and time again.
Across the nation, districts including New York City, Boston, Broward County and even in Miami, where 71% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, have put wireless devices in the hands of 1.7 million students and in most cases instruction is underway. Consistently and adequately funding schools every year ensures that students have the tools they need to learn and when there is a crisis, districts can keep educating students.
While the federal government’s emergency infusion of about $520 million to Pennsylvania’s public schools will offer some relief, it does little to address the chronic underfunding many schools have experienced for generations.
Where a student lives shouldn’t be a factor in whether they receive “a thorough and efficient” education. But it is. And that harsh reality is made blatantly clearer every single day that students living in underfunded districts lack the tools they need to learn.
The state of Pennsylvania is obligated to educate our students. It chose to delay funding when it should have stepped up to the plate. It can now choose to remedy the situation by funding our schools to ensure that every child receives an education that will prepare them for their next challenge. No child should have to wait for another disaster to occur or for the fair funding lawsuit to force the state to do better. Pennsylvania can and must uphold its responsibility to our students by adequately funding our schools so that every student in Montgomery County and across the state has the tools to learn.
Tomea A. Sippio-Smith’s article was originally published in the Ambler Gazette.