“I went to school in Philadelphia,” says the Rev. Angela Brown-Vann. “I was advanced in math,” she says, her voice growing angry. “But when I went to college, a good college, LaSalle, I was still behind my white counterparts.”
“We didn’t know the hands we were dealt.”
”It’s time for people to get mad about being shortchanged,” she says, and you can almost hear a congregation saying, “You tell it!”
Rev. Brown-Vann, the associate minister at St. Mark AME Zion Church in Newtown, PA., does more than tell it. She organizes it, marches it, teaches it, and preaches it. And on Wednesday she and about 20 others from the Bucks County Chapter of POWER Interfaith will hold a vigil on the Capitol steps from 1:30 to 2 pm to demand better distribution of state funds for education. Then the group, which includes Bucks County faith leaders and education activists, will go door-to-door in the capitol building, urging legislators to reconsider the current formula for school funding.
According to the federal government, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in education funding, picking up only 38 percent of local schools’ budgets. The national average is for states to provide 47 percent of schools’ budgets. The fault lies in an old Pennsylvania formula that was only partly fixed when the General Assembly took steps to address this issue through the development of a permanent, student-weighted basic education funding distribution formula that was signed into law under Act 35 of 2016.
Imbalances in funding exist even in Bucks County, but are more glaringly obvious in poorer communities. POWER Interfaith, a nonprofit group based in Philadelphia that has 50 outposts throughout the state, says that those who need the most are getting the least. Half of Pennsylvania’s Black children and 40 percent of Hispanic children live in the poorest 20 percent of the school districts.
But it is not just minority and inner-city children who need help. Kids in poor areas like Carbon County, which is 97.82 percent white, also deserve up-to-date textbooks, reasonable size classrooms, computers, internet accessibility, and sufficient money for teachers and aides.
While POWER Interfaith is speaking to legislators, a long-delayed lawsuit has finally reached the Commonwealth Supreme Court with similar demands about school funding. Students from places like Carbon County are being represented in that lawsuit – William Penn SD, NAACP PA, et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al. – by the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS). Testimony started in November and is expected to continue into early 2022 with expert witnesses and personal accounts from teachers and administrators from the Wilkes-Barre, Johnstown, Panther Valley, William Penn, Lancaster, and Shenandoah Valley School Districts. What has been said is that lack of money means missed opportunities for the children and frustration, even heartbreak, for the teachers.
The Bucks County chapter of POWER Interfaith is holding the third vigil this Wednesday, December 15, in what the organization calls Way Overdue Wednesday. The amount of money it says is due Pennsylvania’s students is $4.6 billion, or $26,000 per student.
Anyone interested in the Bucks County chapter of POWER Interfaith can email Brown-Vann at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Disclosure: POWER Interfaith is a client of A. Waxman & Company, which is owned by Bucks County Beacon publisher Ben Waxman