I am one of those aging “children of the ’60s,” who will soon pass into her 70s. The words and actions of Pope Francis this past week have stirred the embers of the fires that burned in the “wilder” days of my youth. We thought that we could make all sorts of right and just things happen. The words spoken on Saturday about St. Katharine Drexel prep school struck me: “What are you going to do?” We still have to take real steps to encounter and include those who are poor and marginalized. I propose that anyone who has been blessed with a good education has a valuable resource that needs to be shared.
The news that Philadelphia is the poorest of our nation’s 10 largest cities has been directly linked to our failure to provide for all our children “a thorough and efficient education,” as set forth in the Pennsylvania state constitution. I believe that this is partially caused by our reliance on local real estate taxes in our funding formula. Where people have the ability to own their homes in more affluent neighborhoods or in areas where the cost of living and availability of jobs make good schools possible for all residents who can pay the higher real estate taxes, students are doing fairly well in meeting standards of learning. But in rural and urban areas where schools have been underfunded for decades and where jobs are scarce or non-existent for those poorly educated as a result, many can only afford to rent or make their homes in other people’s houses. There are many who don’t even have that. How can the school districts in those areas raise adequate funds from real estate taxes?
I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of state budgets, but I do know that other states have come up with better funding formulas to support their citizens’ right to a good education. Let’s do the same. The present impasse around our state budget seems to be over the belief that people do not want any tax increase. How about if it were presented as a “robbing Peter to pay Paul?” Wouldn’t people who now pay exorbitant property taxes in the suburbs see some reduction of those fees as a more universal income or sales tax assumes the responsibility of supporting public education?
If quality education for all is one of the ways for our state and its people to move forward and to make all our citizens qualified to work at jobs that require knowledge and skills, we have to commit together to providing the resources to make that happen. This is the “common good” that Francis encouraged our legislators to pursue. Can we let go of the entrenched partisan positions in our state assembly to pursue the possibility that many of our citizens do want to reach out to those in need, even if this means adjusting the manner and amount of taxation?
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Right now, nonprofit agencies are no longer able to educate the many adults who are trying to earn their GEDs or gain job skills because they have received no state funding since July 1. Public schools will not long be able to pay teachers and staff. “What are you going to do?” Legislative leaders will allow a vote Wednesday on Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to raise personal income taxes to address Pennsylvania’s underfunded education and provide property tax relief. Please let your state legislators know that your desire to make adequate education funding available to all our citizens is important to you, even if it requires some change in your taxes. We still have the power to make things that are right and just happen if we unite around the “common good.”