It was obvious, as I read the op-ed by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson in last week’s Review (“Reducing gun violence should be No. 1 priority for all city leaders,” Jan. 12) that he is passionate about this cause. He listed all the activities in his political career in support of reducing the number of gunshot victims in Philadelphia. He has serious plans for the whole community and especially for our leaders to become involved, for example, in reducing the flow of illegal firearms into our neighborhoods.
As I followed Johnson’s plan, however, I noticed what I consider a serious omission in the list of preventive measures. Yes, it is essential to eliminate as much as possible the number of illegal guns in the city. It is also important to support community groups that might intervene in problems like domestic violence. Strictly regulating the drug and alcohol market is also a good idea. All Johnson’s ideas are positive and helpful to reducing death and injury from gun violence.
However, I looked in vain for any mention of the role played by education in preventing all kinds of violence. Johnson proposes increases in the budget of hundreds of millions to support all his life-saving plans. Yet, he never mentions the fact that our city’s public schools – and all the services they should provide students and their families – have been seriously underfunded for many years.
As most readers should be aware, there has been a lawsuit in state courts since mid-November aimed at correcting a serious shortfall in Pennsylvania’s school funding formula. At the moment, there are 6 other school districts in the state suing for a change in the formula that they claim is in violation of our state Constitution that requires “a thorough and efficient education” for all its citizens. It is not thorough or in any way efficient to force local governments to make up the difference between state funding and their local needs. That might work in an affluent district like Lower Merion, but it fails miserably in a large city like Philadelphia with a high rate of poverty.
In other words, the School District of Philadelphia is forced to struggle with insufficient funding while dealing with more serious social issues than most communities in the state. On Jan. 11, soon-to-retire School Superintendent William Hite testified before Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer about the wide spending gap between wealthy and low-income school districts. Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in the percentage of education costs borne by the state as opposed to localities. So if your child is lucky enough to attend school in an affluent district, that child has a better chance to succeed.
Sadly, we are not so lucky here in Philadelphia. Problems have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which only underscores how insufficient an education is being provided. If anything, our poorer students need even more support during these challenging times. They should have all the services necessary to make progress academically, emotionally and socially. They need safe classrooms in which to learn. They need enough staff to prevent overcrowding. They need nurses in every school. They need whatever it takes to help them learn and thrive no matter in what kind of household they live.
I sincerely wish Councilmember Johnson complete success in his plans to save lives in Philadelphia. I just hope and pray that he and other civic leaders put schools at the top of the list for proper funding.
– Gloria C. Endres