Hundreds of students and community members turned out on a late summer Sunday to call for a change to the funding disparities between public school students in Lower Merion and those across City Avenue in Philadelphia.
The event was organized by four Lower Merion High School rising seniors; Kisara Freeman,Caitlin McGinty, Megan Craig and Michaela Craig.
“We the students of the Lower Merion School District are committed to establishing an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship with fellow students across City Line. We understand that the oppressive conditions under which they must pursue their education are in direct contrast to the superior and safe environment provided to us. We also understand that these disparities are deliberately enforced by a socio-political system that is designed to prevent us from standing in solidarity together against the widespread injustices that are endemic to our communities, our city, and our country,” read the group’s manifesto.
“Pennsylvania has one of the most unequal school funding statuses in the nation,” said McGinty as she spoke to the crowd at Cynwyd Station Park. “As you make you way down to Overbrook, you will notice the distinct differences each of our districts hold.”
McGInty then spoke about the SAT testing that high school seniors take to enter college and an important milestone for many Lower Merion students. McGinty pointed out that the test was developed by a man who believed in eugenics and she questioned how the test unfairly challenges students in communities without the resources of Lower Merion parents.
“The legacy of the SAT still lingers because we do nothing to eradicate the adversary that plagues students who can’t live in neighborhoods like this,” McGinty said. [The SAT] “is the capstone of achievement of a deeply racist system that all of us have permitted to stand.”
McGinty said the students have launched a petition to abolish the SAT nationwide.
“White supremacy and racism continue to plague us because it is part of the foundation of this country,” said Keziah Ridgeway, an educator at Northeast High School. “We must do more. It can’t be a moment in time. It must be a movement. You must build lasting relationships with Black, Brown and indigenous people of color anywhere you find them. We all know that there is a disparity in how money trickles down to students of color, especially in the inner city.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Ridgeway asked.
Nora Christman, a teacher at Lower Merion High School, said she realized her greatest power in the conversation came not from being a teacher but from being a white parent.
She said that White supremacy whispers that whites deserve things we were born into and it’s only possible for our white kids to have more if someone else, namely black kids, have less.
“White supremacy has taught us that our number one goal is to build a ladder for our children to climb. A ladder of SAT tutors, private cello lessons and good schools. A ladder towards some hazy destination called success at the literal expense of all else,” Christman said. “The right thing for white parents to do, to aggressively address inequity in school funding, does not seem to be a rung in our children’s ladders, so we discard it.”
“When will we realize that inequity for all Pennsylvanians…benefits all Pennsylvanians? That improved access to resources for other people’s children benefits our children, our society, our future. If we white parents choose not to do this, we must carry the weight that we are the reason this system persists.”
State Senator Vincent Hughes seconded that, saying that the cure for cancer or possibly Covid-19, might be in the brain, heart and determination of some Black or Brown child stuck in an underfunded school.
“When we don’t lift up this hell they are going through, when we to continue [discourage] their success, their pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of engaging people as real human beings and lifting up all society, we are blocking our own blessings,” Hughes said.
He pointed out that every student at Lower Merion High School is receiving $10,000 more for their education than those at Overboork High School, less than 4 miles away.
Following the speeches, the group marched from Cynwyd Station Park in Bala Cynwyd to Tustin Playground in Overbook with police from both Lower Merion and Philadelphia police safely stopping traffic along the route.