An Open Letter to Pennsylvania Legislators

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015 at 10:45 AM
An Open Letter to Pennsylvania Legislators by Jennifer Hunt Roden
Contributed Photo

Dear Legislator,

I am a school psychologist for the Erie School District. This marks my 17th year as a public school employee. Whether or not the budget is settled once this letter finds you, the budget impasse appears to reveal a greater moral problem: You devalue education and social services for the good people of Pennsylvania. 

Public education is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Public education is prison and violence prevention. It levels the playing field between wealth and poverty, supports a healthy democracy, and provides some students with chances they might not have had due to the circumstances of their birth.

Please vote and encourage your peers to vote to rectify the funding formula for Pa. public schools. Poor city kids deserve opportunities equal to those of rich suburban kids. The next Neal DeGrasse Tyson could be sitting at Pfeiffer-Burleigh school in Erie, but we may never know because we can barely afford to keep a roof on the place. 

If you recall, cuts in education during the Corbett administration stole over 200 teachers and support staff from the impoverished children of Erie City. Granted, neighboring districts had similar problems with money, but not nearly of the same magnitude. 

Anemic staffing is only one example of the meager support for the cash-strapped urban schools of Pennsylvania. Erie and all urban students deserve better than frazzled teachers, school psychologists, counselors, and support staff doing “more with less.” Do we want our Erie and other urban students to merely survive, or to thrive? The answer is fairly funding all schools, not just schools with a wealthier tax base.

When I was a student at Academy and then Central High School, I quickly noticed that the abundance of opportunity offered to students in richer districts was not afforded to me. Their buildings were nicer, their programs had more breadth and depth, and students didn’t have to change schools because theirs was forced to close. Erie students deserve greater and sustained access to psychologists, counselors, and support staff, academic or behavioral interventions for any student in need, enhanced art and music programs, and state-of-the-art facilities. 

Though Erie as a whole is not wealthy, our richness comes from our hard-working, multifaceted community. Unfortunately, many of our families are a car repair away from not making rent despite their hard work. Many parents in Erie work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. People who can’t get a break should not provide the sole tax base for our school system. 

The next generation deserves much, much better. Did you notice the same instances of gun violence twenty years ago? Individuals with a future story and solid mental health do not shoot people. Individuals who can avoid the hopeless grip of the downward spiral of poverty do not shoot people. If children in need continue to fail in school, lack access to ongoing mental health support, and notice the superior opportunities offered to the white suburban kids, violence will continue. If our problems are not addressed, violence stemming from hopelessness will start to trickle into our shopping malls, beaches, and public parks. 

There is no excuse. We must act now. The answer is fairly funding all schools, not just schools with a wealthier tax base.

What is happening to poor Pennsylvania kids now is institutional racism, pure and simple. Pennsylvania has made national news for having the largest disparity between rich districts and poor districts in the nation. It is embarrassing.

What is happening to poor Pennsylvania kids now is institutional racism, pure and simple, and it needs to stop. Pennsylvania has made national news for having the largest disparity between rich districts and poor districts in the nation. It is embarrassing. 

Need ideas for how to pay for fair school funding? How about extraction tax for Marcellus Shale? How about green energy? Or, maybe you should ask fellow legislators in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon how they get millions of additional dollars in tax revenue. 

Do you represent all Pennsylvanians, or just those who voted for you? Blocking payroll deductions for unions isn’t going to generate any revenue for Pa., nor will taking away the retirement security of thousands of teachers. There are many positive, proactive ways to generate revenue in this state that do not compromise the livelihood of hard-working, middle class Pennsylvanians.  

In closing, please settle the budget, for crying out loud. If it gets to the point where tens of thousands of students are turned away from school because we are out of money, I suspect the ensuing emails from parents and other professionals will be much less polite. 

I have never been so embarrassed to be a Pennsylvanian. Please vote to level the disparity between rich and poor districts in our state, and for a better future for Pennsylvania.

Most Respectfully,

Jennifer Hunt Roden, M.Ed.

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