Funding Commission, Activists Reach Accord

Public comment will be allowed, and protests are called off.

The state’s Basic Education Funding Commission has decided it might be worth getting some public input, after all.

POWER, the Philadelphia faith-based activist group, said today it was calling off plans to protest at the commission’s two-day meeting in Philadelphia this week, after the commission agreed to begin offering public comment sessions at all its future meetings. Previously, a spokesman for the commission said that only “expert” testimony from officials was needed — precluding the comments of parents, teachers, and other interested parties.

POWER said in its press release:

The interfaith organization POWER has been informed that a public comment period will now be allowed at all future hearings of Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission, the body charged with developing a new formula for state funding of public schools, which plans to have two hearings in Philadelphia this Tuesday and Wednesday. The change is a result of negotiation with POWER after the organization announced plans to take non-violent direct action during tomorrow’s hearing if public testimony was not permitted. POWER leaders will still be present at Tuesday’s hearing in prayerful witness, but plan not to disrupt the hearing, and plans to testify during the newly alotted time on Wednesday.

Representatives of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which previously has not allowed for input from the public after several requests from public education advocates, parents, and clergy from various localities, made an offer on Monday night proposing a variety of concessions if POWER cancelled its non-violent civil disobedience. Originally these offers did not include a public comment period in Philadelphia; POWER held its ground that they would not cancel plans until this was permitted. The Commission agreed, and there will now be a half-hour for public testimony in all hearings statewide from this point forward, starting in the second day of hearings in Philadelphia on Wednesday during the last half hour of the hearing. Wednesday’s hearing begins at 10AM in the Mayor’s Reception Room at Philadelphia City Hall.

Additionally, the release said, the commission agreed to hear testimony from David Mosenkis, a Mount Airy data analyst who recently concluded that disparities in Pennsylvania school funding break down largely along racial lines.

The hearings begin this afternoon, also in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall.