Excerpted from Emma Brown, The Washington Post
PHILADELPHIA— At Martin Luther King High, a hulking half-full school here, there aren’t enough textbooks to go around. If teachers want to make a photocopy, they have to buy paper themselves. Though an overwhelming majority of students are living in poverty, no social worker is available to help. Private donations allow for some dance and music classes, but they serve just 60 of the school’s 1,200 students.
At Lower Merion High, 10 miles away in a suburb of stately stone homes, copy paper and textbooks are available but are rarely necessary: each student has a school-provided laptop. A pool allows for lifeguarding classes, and an arts wing hosts courses in photography, ceramics, studio art and jewelry making. The campus has a social worker.
While there always have been inequalities among the nation’s public schools, the gap in spending between public schools in the poorest and most-affluent communities has grown during the past decade. Nowhere is that gap wider than in Pennsylvania, according to federal data. School districts with the highest poverty rates herereceive one-third fewer state and local tax dollars, per pupil, than the most affluent districts. This spring, the new governor has outlined an ambitious plan to address the inequities, but it faces opposition at the statehouse.
Tom Wolf, the new governor of Pennsylvania, wants greater parity. The chief executive campaigned last year on promises to tax the gas industry to raise money for education. The strategy paid off: polls showed that voters, after watching public schools sustain deep cuts, considered education the top issue in the race….
In 2011, after posting low test scores for years, King became a “promise academy,” an approach to turning around schools that includes a longer school day and a rich set of extracurricular offerings— such as rowing, archery or a poetry club —meant to entice reluctant students. But after one year, budget cuts put an end to the extra learning time and the enrichment activities, Principal William C. Wade said.King also absorbed hundreds of students from a rival school that was closed to save money. Wade said the cuts have made it more difficult to transform King. Some class sizes have risen into the 40s. All students are from low-income families; one-third read proficiently, and half graduate on time.
In November, a coalition of parents, school districts and the Pennsylvania NAACPsued, contending that the state’s school funding system violated the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” Ninety-five percent of the state’s school districts didn’t have enough money to provide students with the education they needed to meet state academic standards in 2006.
“We recognize there will always be differences in what is spent,” said Maura McInerney, an attorney at the Education Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs. “What we’re asking for is that every child have a chance to meet state standards.”