As a member of the Philadelphia Youth Commission and the School District’s City-Wide Student Government, my responsibility is to speak up about the issues that affect my fellow students and young adults. But I know that when I speak up in support of public education, I am really speaking up on behalf of the entire city, because education affects everyone.
After all, what could be more essential to this city’s future than the education of its youth, the next generation of leaders?
Education is an investment that safeguards against poverty and injustice, because a quality education teaches you how to think — not what to think. A quality education provides the tools we need to solve the problems facing our community.
But a quality education requires adequate resources — for teachers, supplies, and facilities. You can’t support education without supporting education funding.
I vividly remember sixth grade, when major budget cuts eliminated teaching staff and essentials like books and basic supplies.
At my school, though we had little money, we were fortunate to have a supportive community that helped make up some of the losses. Many students in other schools were not so lucky.
While no one told us directly, “Your futures don’t matter,” or, “We don’t care what happens to you,” the message was still clear.
Today, we are still recovering from those drastic budget cuts, but a better future is on the horizon. The School Reform Commission will soon be replaced by a locally controlled school board.
The district has also improved its financial footing, and early literacy and graduation rates are steadily rising, thanks to increased support from city leaders and Philadelphians. But we have to do more to sustain this progress, or we will fall behind again.
Recently, the Inquirer highlighted an issue that disproportionately affects young people: the condition and safety of the buildings where we learn. Right now, the district can’t keep up because years of underfunding have cut away at the budget. But with adequate and stable funding, that can also change.
I will graduate next year, but there are tens of thousands of students younger than me who still have years to go in schools that are deteriorating and at risk of losing essential staff and teachers if we don’t commit to adequately funding the district’s future. Now, the responsibility falls on every shoulder to fund and uphold this building block of our democratic society — education.
We can no longer afford to support this most basic need in word alone. We must take action to make a good education and meaningful opportunities something everyone can have.
If we make public education our priority today we will feel the benefits tomorrow. Education will give my generation and future generations the tools to realize equality for all, live better lives, be more productive citizens, and have futures that are not linked to generational poverty and violence. The cycle must be broken and education is the answer.
The new school board, and Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Kenney, and every citizen now have the power to right a wrong. What we truly value will be reflected in our actions and our funding. Yes, there is a price to a good education — but the price of doing nothing is far higher.
Alfredo Praticò is a junior at Julia R. Masterman High School and vice chair of the Philadelphia Youth Commission.