PHILADELPHIA, June 15, 2017 — State Sen. Vincent Hughes, along with state and local advocates, today unveiled legislation that would provide funding to upgrade school facilities and ensure education equity in public schools.
The news conference was held at Cassidy Academics Plus Elementary School in the Overbrook section of the city to highlight state funding inequities in education.
Hughes’ first bill would address infrastructure needs by creating the Schools of the Future Repair, Rebuild and Revitalize Plan. The second measure is aimed at resolving education funding inequities by creating the Academic Success Program. The legislation would drive significant dollars through the Basic Education Funding Formula and provide additional support through the Intensive Academic Investment Block Grant Program. Both plans would be funded through a tax on Marcellus Shale drilling.
Pennsylvania is the only state that does not impose a natural gas extraction tax. The Independent Fiscal Office predicts that a modest 6.5 percent tax on gas extraction would raise $349 million in Fiscal Year 2017-18, $712 million in 2018-19, $755 million in 2019-20, $931 million in 2020-21 and $1.5 billion in 2021-22.
“There is an immediate and critical need to address education inequality in Pennsylvania. It’s not just a Philadelphia issue; it’s a statewide issue. Children are learning in buildings with rodents, contaminated drinking water and outdated textbooks. Meanwhile, students in other districts can access the latest technologies to bolster their educations. Our children deserve better,” Hughes said. “The legislation addresses the fundamental issues that impact education. It will ensure that all children have equal opportunities to succeed academically.
“The truth is, Marcellus shale drillers are taking our natural resources and profiting from them without contributing back to our state. They are not paying their fair share,” he said. “This is a common-sense approach that will enrich our most precious resource — our children.”
Cassidy fourth-grader Chelsea Mungo recently wrote to Hughes about the need to fund schools, asking “Why does the color of the students’ skin matter how much money we get for our school?” Cassidy students also visited the senator on Tuesday at the Capitol as part of the Young Heroes Outreach Program; in return, the senator visited their school today prior to announcing this legislation.
“I had the hardest conversation with the children at Cassidy this week, who were trying to understand this issue,” said state Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia). “It’s time to stop talking and start investing in the future of this commonwealth. If we’re not preparing the next generation, then we’re not preparing this commonwealth to be competitive.”
Jerry Roseman, acting director of Occupational & Environmental Health & Safety for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the state of a school’s infrastructure has an impact on the students’ academics and achievement.
“There is no way to deliver high quality education in buildings that are crumbling,” he said.
“One of key elements of addressing injustice is adequate and fair funding,” said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which released a report that provides a state and national analysis of 20 years of maintenance and operations spending and capital construction investments on public school facilities. “Using a tax on natural gas for infrastructure is spot on.”
Pennsylvania NAACP President Joan Duvall-Flynn noted that Pennsylvania cannot thrive following the path of inadequate education for a significant portion of its population.
“The NAACP PA supports the efforts of Senator Vincent Hughes to create a statewide school facilities renovation program, funded by a tax on shale extraction,” she said. “We stand with his efforts for a significant increase in classroom dollars.”
“All Pennsylvania children deserve schools with resources ready to educate them, to keep them healthy, and to help them lead productive lives. Just as schools must have enough teachers, counselors, books, and technology, they must have fresh water, clear air, and safe physical conditions that befit the endless potential of our children,” said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, attorney from the Public Interest Law Center. “This is not only a moral responsibility, but a legal command enshrined in the Constitution of this commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation in terms of supporting public education. Local school districts must find ways to cover the costs that the state does not, said Tomea A. Sippio-Smith, K12 policy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY).
“Long-term increases in student spending have been shown to improve children’s chances of graduating from high school, going to college, earning more money as adults and lifting their families out of poverty,” Sippio-Smith said. “We all benefit when young people finish school prepared for college and careers, ready to compete in the marketplace and strengthen our economy.”
Recent reports from the Education Law Center and POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild) show that education funding is still being distributed to Pennsylvania public schools unfairly with a distinct racial bias.
“How long must we tolerate this injustice?” said Rev. Gregory Holston, POWER executive director. “This racial discrimination — this educational apartheid — has to end, and it has to end now.”
“The Education Law Center fully supports Senator Hughes’ push for equity in our public schools. Our schools are woefully underfunded and our children are underserved,” said Deborah Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center. “ELC stands ready to work with our allies here today to ensure all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education.”