by Manuel McDonnell Smith
As a citizen, I’m always among the first in line to cheer the work of our locally elected officials. With a minimum of public recognition, and a modest paycheck, they take on the 24/7 jobs of keeping our services running and our neighborhoods happy. But recently smiles turned into shock. How have our trusted leaders let the critical issue of school funding turn into the crisis it is today?
My life is a positive example of the powerful benefit of public education. I’ve been able to parlay the meaningful instruction from my Philadelphia Public School teachers into a career path that has taken me from the corners of West Philadelphia to the top corridors of corporate leadership in New York.
Despite these achievements, my heart still yearned to return the community’s investment in me; therefore, I’ve returned home to Philadelphia, enrolling my children in the Public School system and continuing the ecosystem that drives a thriving community. But will this funding shortage also short my kids of the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed?
“When you live in the city, as soon as you have your first kid, you start thinking about schools”, explained Brian Hackford, a co- owner of local business Keswick Cycles to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “You hope your district will get better. Instead it gets worse. Unless you have $35,000 a year [for] private school, at some point, you go, ‘I just can’t do this’.”
It sounds like his hope for educating his children in the city, and contributing to the ecosystem that keeps our city growing through positive schooling here has been broken.
That “burst bubble” is not Brian’s alone; it’s one that’s shared by my friends and the other parents I know who send their kids to school with mine. But that even brings up even more concern.
Because of my strong roots in the city, my family has decided to keep holding on and believing that things will get better. But ours is just one choice to stay. The same Inquirer story profiled two other families who have chosen to flee the city due to the lack of public educational choices for their children. Their choices sadden me. Could their children have been the classroom buddies that my kids will now never have the chance to meet?
Maybe their sons, now moved to the ‘burbs, were the guys meant to take my daughters to their first school dances and proms, or even later become their colleagues at firms launched by their future creative wisdoms. They’re gone now, taking not only those possibilities with them, but also part of the strong tax base needed to help fund the good schools, and good teachers that keep the ecosystem of a growing city alive.
For me, the dream is still alive. But I need our elected officials to resolve this debate, and quickly deal with the problems facing public education. The educational futures of my children, and thousands of others depend on their choices today. Not only do I want a better future for them, but for all of the children who are counting on the system to get them to cap-and-gowns.
It’s not too late to put aside politics, and re-deliver hope through positive, assured funding for schools for families like mine. If delivering hope for my family is not enough, then at least consider Brian’s. His family has put their city townhouse up for sale. “We have an offer”, he sadly told The Inquirer. “And if it works out, we’re going.” That sounds like he”s not yet at closing, which leaves yet another chance for you (city officials) to change his and many other minds. We want to believe. Please deliver on the promise of better education for our children!