Friday, July 31, 2009

ASD Faces Big Challenges

Four years ago a group of business and community leaders in Allentown formed "Education 2010!" The group hired and paid a consulting firm in Denver to prepare a local "costing out study" for the Allentown School District. The reason for the study was to ensure equitable funding and a better education for ASD students, which in turn could result in a stronger regional economy, and a better quality of life for all residents.

The results of the study are quite surprising. Here's a link ...  

According to the study, these are some of the challenges that the ASD faces:

- ASD has almost 3 times as many poor students as the next highest district (Northern Lehigh)

- ASD has more than 5 times as many English learners as the next highest district (Whitehall)

-Compared to half of the other districts in the county, ASD has seven times as many poor students and fifteen times as many English language learners.

The study reports that Allentown has the lowest property value per student, less than half of what most other districts in Lehigh County have, but Allentown's tax rate is higher than both county and state averages. And the huge revenue gap between the ASD and other districts will keep increasing as more families move to Parkland and East Penn. Hopefully that trend will change, and in the future more families will choose to live in the city.

I have seen the gross inequity between the ASD and other local districts. This is unfair and unjust because the ASD child who is born into poverty deserves the same quality education as the suburban child who lives in the McMansion in the Macungies.

Why should the quality of a child's education be hinged upon local property values? It's wrong to deny a child born into poverty the necessary resources for a quality education. 

In the 2008-2009 budget, Governor Rendell introduced a new school funding formula to distribute funds based on the actual number of students in a district, factoring in the number of students living in poverty, English learners, and special needs. So Allentown would be getting more state funding this coming school year. But now because of the current budget crisis, those funds are at risk of being cut. This is really bad news for the ASD because if programs are cut, the needs of students will not be met.

What would help to improve this dire situation? Allentown's taxes are already too high.

The ASD would certainly benefit from more community involvement and help from business leaders, but that's not enough.

We believe that school district consolidation into a county district is worth looking into. Of course, there would be people who would complain that their hard earned tax money shoudn't be used to help some poor inner city kid who can't speak English. Not everyone wants to "share the wealth." And considering today's current divisive political atmosphere, overt racism in the media, and the classism and racism in our society, it doesn't look like people are willing to come together on important issues like education and health care. The Republicans are more concerned about stopping President Obama than listening to the American people.

But why not share the wealth, since a child who has a quality education is more likely to go on to college, help improve the economy, and benefit society as a whole. It's a good return on your investment. And what could be more important than our children?