by Sue Ann Rybak

In a discussion of “Full and Fair School Funding,” Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center, called public education ‘the civil rights issue of our day.”

The panel discussion was part of the Germantown Jewish Centre’s annual Ralph Granger Memorial Shabbat program held on Jan. 18. The Granger Memorial Shabbat honors the late Ralph Granger, a former custodian of the Germantown Jewish Center and a Christian African-American known for his dedication and love of the center.

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) called Granger “a steward of souls” who was known for valuing and respecting differences in others.

Paul Minkoff, a member of the synagogue, said the memorial was an opportunity to reflect on the differences and inequalities in our community.

The panel discussion addressed the need for a fair and adequate state funding formula for Pennsylvania’s schools. Other members of the panel included the Rev. W. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Chestnut Hill, and Dalya Hahn, a Central High School senior.

Cooper said that if Pennsylvania had met its constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding to its public schools, the district would not have been forced to lay off hundreds of teachers, counselors and other staff.

“Pennsylvania is just one of three states in the nation that does not have a funding plan for public education,” she said.

Cooper said that when Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the education budget in 2011, the cuts were not made fairly across the state, adding that the largest cuts were made in the poorest districts.

According to a PCCY study, the state recently “doled out $30 million via twelve cryptically written formulas to districts of their choosing.”

For example, five districts – Reading, York, Lebanon, Allentown and Lancaster – all received additional funding under the “English Language Learner Supplement,” but 10 other school districts, including Philadelphia, that serve more ELL students didn’t receive any additional funding.

Brownstein said currently the state doesn’t have a “rational way” of distributing funds. She said the state used to have a formula that took into account student and district factors but the General Assembly abandoned that formula.

Brownstein said Pennsylvania needs a fair funding formula that takes into account a variety of student and district characteristics based on English language proficiency, levels of poverty and school district size.

Cooper encouraged attendees to join the PCCY rally in Harrisburg on Feb. 4 during Gov. Corbett’s budget address. Buses will leave 30th Street Station at 8 a.m.

Haviva Goldman, 42, of Chestnut Hill, said public education is an issue that affects everyone “even if your children are grown already, or you aren’t utilizing public school, or don’t live in Philadelphia. It is about the right of children to have access to public education that is of quality and is equitable.

“I personally choose to send my children to our neighborhood public school and am thus very invested in these issues, but even families who choose to use private schools can’t afford to ignore the state of public education in this city. It affects the growth and sustainability of the city as a whole, and each of our neighborhoods, and affects an entire generation of children who will be the future of this city.”

For more information about fair funding formulas read the Education Law Center’s report entitled “Funding, Formulas and Fairness” at www.elc-pa.org. To sign up for the bus trip to Harrisburg, call Shanee Garner at 215-563-5848 or email info@pccy.org.