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Local testimonies describe how money has made a difference

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Local activists trying to convince state and city officials that adequate school funding improves teaching and learning now have a new tool at their disposal.

A booklet titled “Community Account: Success Stories from PA’s Education Investment” is full of individual testimonies describing how this year’s historic boost in state school spending made a difference. A local network of education organizing groups, Cross City Campaign for School Reform, interviewed more than 100 educators, students, and families in southeastern Pennsylvania.

What they heard, according to Megan Williamson of Philadelphia Student Union, who designed the booklet, is that “when more money and resources are directed through the school funding formula and serve groups like English language learners and high-poverty students, it can have a real impact on the quality of education.”

In Philadelphia, most of the additional state funding was used to reduce class size. The booklet quotes 2nd grade teacher Nathan Blodgett at Morris Elementary: “If you’re in a smaller class, you can develop personal relationships with the kids, you can work on some of the issues they might be bringing in from the outside. Also when you’re talking about breaking into small groups … it’s much easier.”

In adopting a funding formula aimed at ensuring adequate resources for every school district within six years, the Pennsylvania legislature also put in place accountability provisions requiring districts to spell out their plans for spending the increases. The Cross City coalition has been monitoring district plans across the region, and members have been talking to legislators about what they are learning.

Josh Varon of the Education Law Center, who worked on the booklet, said its message for legislators preparing to vote on the state budget is twofold: “Preserve the core principles of the funding formula, and preserve accountability.”

“Community Account” can be downloaded at www.phillystudentunion.org.