This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Energy was high at Spring Garden Elementary School on Monday as a small crowd gathered to kick off the Statewide Bus Tour for the Schools Our Children Deserve, an effort to draw attention to the need for fair and full funding for Pennsylvania schools.
Though Monday’s event was meant to launch the bus tour, the bus was absent because of a gas leak, said Ron Whitehorne, a coordinator for the campaign. Its first stop, in West Chester, was planned for Tuesday.
Regardless, the kickoff event proceeded as planned. Activists chanted for fair funding, hoisted union signs, and listened to speakers who called for education equality.
The kickoff and bus tour were organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a confederation of 30 state groups, including Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Philadelphia Student Union, and the interfaith coalition POWER.
“Our goal is to raise awareness about the the need for fair and full funding. We support the Marcellus Shale tax, [Gov.] Wolf’s plan to raise more than $1 billion [for schools], and an equitable funding formula,” said Whitehorne, who is a member of PCAPS.
PFT member Jackie Jones, who attended the kickoff, said, “We need a fair funding formula across the board for everyone. We need buses. We need nurses. We need everything.”
The bus tour is scheduled to stop in cities, suburbs, and rural areas — including Doylestown, Scranton, and Pittsburgh — before reaching its final destination in Harrisburg on June 29. Activists plan to occupy the state Capitol upon arrival.
The bus stops include time for participants to urge pedestrians to call their legislators and advocate for Wolf’s proposed budget, which is facing strong pushback from a mostly Republican legislature.
The tour is meant to show statewide, bipartisan solidarity in the fight for school funding. The school bus itself has symbolic power, because it represents youth education, said Whitehorne.
“We want to demonstrate that it’s not just Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that are concerned. It’s also small areas across the state, including Republican areas. We want to build a network across the state committed to these goals, to break down barriers between big and small, city and rural areas.”
The Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, a member of POWER, noted that this week marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
“Black lives especially matter in the schools that we send our children to. Give us a fair funding formula now!”
Judith Grant, a teacher at Spring Garden Elementary, capped the event with a personal story of what the budget cuts have done to her school.
“We have a nurse on Fridays, [but] she still needs to accomplish five days of work in one day,” Grant said. “Providing adequate funding to our children ensures that they are able to fulfill the dreams they walk into this building with. If we don’t get funding, we can’t do this.”
As of Tuesday, the bus had been fixed and was on its way to West Chester.
Michaela Ward is a summer intern at the Notebook.