Letter to the Editor: Fix our aging schools

In her letter to the editor last week (“Fix the crumbling schools,” Dec. 8), J. R. Masterman School senior Queenie Chen asks the same question I posed at the end of the year-and-a-half lockdown of Philadelphia public schools: ” … what has the school been doing when they had over a year to fix all these problems in an empty school building?” It just seems so ridiculous that we have so many aging, crumbling schools that have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of being unsafe. But then, as I have been saying for years, it always comes down to proper funding and applying those funds fairly.

According to the federal government, Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in the percent of school funding coming from state coffers. That means that the state depends too much on each local district to make up the difference. Richer districts can do that more easily than poorer districts. Simple unfair arithmetic.

Back in 2016, the state legislature tried to fix this problem by passing a better formula for what they call Basic Education Funding. Unfortunately, there has been continuous failure by the legislature and the executive to implement this formula. It might work on paper but has yet to be put into practice.

Meanwhile, seven years ago, six school districts, advocacy groups and parents filed a lawsuit accusing state officials and the General Assembly of failing their constitutional duty to provide a “thorough and efficient” educational system. The Public Interest Law Center, one of the plaintiffs, has argued that Pennsylvania schools in general are underfunded by more than $4.6 billion, which affects more than 400 of the state’s 500 districts, including Philadelphia.

Starting on Nov. 12, the trial began. The case is known as the Pennsylvania School Funding Lawsuit. It is working its way through the courts now. This could take weeks to resolve.

Of course, the incompetent defendants argue that the best way to solve this is through legislation not lawsuits. Well, they have had endless amounts of time to make things happen. They even had a long period of school closures in which to mend the dangerous conditions that exist in too many of our aged buildings like Masterman. They failed to make anything substantial happen.

Queenie Chen has a great idea about demolishing really old and dangerous buildings instead of perpetually repairing them. A temporary inconvenience is better than endless patchwork. Again, it is up to the state to make good on its constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding.

We have to watch how this lawsuit progresses. As a retired teacher and public education advocate, I am rooting for those plaintiffs to make their case and finally force the state to do its duty by all our students. 

Gloria C. Endres