Members of local school districts sign open letter urging Gov. Shapiro to ‘fully and fairly fund our public schools’

Over 350 parents, educators, taxpayers, and school board members from more than 40 districts across the state are urging Governor Josh Shapiro to “fully and fairly” fund public schools.

The Bucks County Beacon published an open letter on Sunday, January 28 which intends to “remind the governor that privatization schemes like vouchers are part of the problem, not the solution.”

Members of the following districts in our area signed the letter, according to the Beacon:

  • Upper Dublin: Ann Davis, Gillian Szymanski, Art Levinowitz, Beth Warms, Jed Margolis, Melissa Hecht
  • Wissahickon: Gary Sieling, Jennifer Sokol, Chris Smart, Vivien Kane, Thomas Buonocore

In related news, Governor Josh Shapiro’s administration recently approved of Pennwood Cyber Charter School’s application to begin enrolling students for the upcoming school year. According to an article published on Friday by the Philadelphia Inquirer, cyber charter schools have been criticized for two reasons: they draw money from school districts, and they tend to underperform academically.

Nevertheless, the Department of Education enrolled more than 57,000 Pennsylvania students last year, and Pennwood, which is approved to open July 1, said it expects to enroll 1,800 students in its first year, increasing to 8,200 by year 5, the Inquirer said.

The K-12 school also says it will “empower students to meet their unique educational and life goals through flexible pacing, college preparatory programming, and career development.”

The letter, titled “An Open Letter To Governor Josh Shapiro: Fully And Fairly Fund Our Public Schools”, can be found in full below:

Dear Governor Shapiro,

We are school board members, parents, educators, and community members from all around Pennsylvania. We are from well-resourced and underfunded school districts; from rural, suburban, and urban ones. We share a common conviction: Every child in Pennsylvania deserves a high-quality education. We are convinced that the ONLY way to provide this is to fully and fairly fund our public schools. 

As you know, the Commonwealth Court ruled last February that the Administration and Legislature are failing to provide each student with a high-quality public education, violating the state constitution and undercutting our potential as a Commonwealth. We have watched closely, knowing your ability to listen to the people on the ground and creatively solve problems. We had hoped to see you forge a solution, addressing the court’s order to correct the deep disparities in our public education system. Instead, we saw a failure of leadership, from an underwhelming initial budget proposal to your abandonment of key campaign promises to “fully fund our schools”. Even as the budget process was finally completed at the end of 2023, we couldn’t help but notice that there was no funding for Level-Up or any other program that would address our massive, and unconstitutional, educational opportunity gap.

We realize some want to direct education dollars toward programs that propose to “help students escape”’ from under-resourced schools. Whether we are discussing EITC or vouchers, let’s be clear: these programs fail to get the Commonwealth even one penny closer to meeting its constitutional obligation to Pennsylvania students. Privatization methods siphon funding away from public schools and into programs that have shown poor results – they have not meaningfully improved academic achievement or significantly reached underprivileged students. Yet even if these programs worked well, they would still fail the vast majority of Pennsylvania students because they do not and can not address the root problem.

The root problem is that Pennsylvania has been underinvesting in public schools for decades, with economically disadvantaged public schools seeing particular divestment. The importance of public schools must be acknowledged and prioritized. Public schools are where all students are guaranteed an education – full stop. It doesn’t matter whether students have a disability, what their family background is, what their religion is, or what mistakes they’ve made – public schools are morally and constitutionally obligated to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to every Pennsylvania child.

These schools are foundational to our children and our communities. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth’s decades of underfunding them has created a $6 billion gap between what our students need and what they get. This lack of resources is particularly concentrated in schools that educate students from lower-income families and students of color. These disparities hurt students in real time, as larger class sizes, fewer enrichment opportunities, and dangerous school facilities impact students’ current academic, physical, and mental well-being.  As you said in your brief in support of the plaintiffs in the school funding case, “The evidence before the Court shows that the resources of Petitioner schools and Philadelphia are inadequate… educational outcomes in those districts are both significantly worse than those in other districts across the Commonwealth and inadequate in their own right.” And these disparities cause lasting harm, translating into lower graduation rates and lower lifetime earnings. 

To address this core challenge of insufficient funding from the Commonwealth, we must commit to ensuring our public schools, especially the long-underfunded ones, have the resources they need to provide a quality education for their students.

These students – all of them – need someone to champion them. As Attorney General and as a candidate for Governor, you expressed support for full and fair public school funding. As Governor, those students need you to step up and lead, to address this foundational problem with decisiveness and determination. Our students need historic results, which ensure our public schools are fully equipped to provide every student with a thorough education that ensures they graduate ready for college, career, and civic life.

There is no greater challenge before our Commonwealth right now. But together, we really can do big things.  

Will you lead our Commonwealth in this great and worthy effort – providing every student with access to a high-quality, public education?

Photo: Josh Shapiro Facebook page