Most of us want our neighborhood public schools to inspire imagination, cultivate critical thinking, and ensure our children can live fulfilling lives. But for too long, our leaders have refused to properly invest in our students, especially our Black and brown students who are historically given less resources than their white counterparts.
While elected officials in Harrisburg are busy playing politics and failing to prioritize our school district, our students are bearing the burden of our leaders’ inaction, leaving local community school districts to make difficult decisions, including raising the district’s property tax.
I believe that every child, whatever their color, background or ZIP code, has the right to learn in a supportive environment. These are the values I ran on when I was running to be a member of the Erie School Board, and these are the values I voted with when I voted in favor of a 4.45% property tax increase last month. This tax increase allows Erie to continue to invest in crucial services — including after-school programming and classroom sizes at 20 students or below.
In 2020, we received federal COVID-19 relief funds that allowed us to implement programs that we couldn’t afford before. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to finally support all our students in the way that they deserve. But the reality is, these funds will run dry in two years.
We’ve had to act fast to cover that gap. I voted to raise the property tax by 4.45% because I had our students’ best interests in mind. We cannot afford to gamble with our students’ futures, and I believe this was a decision that could not wait to be made.
I made it my goal as an elected member of the school board to make sure students heard the message: We want you to succeed and we want to invest in opportunities for you. The benefits of these programs are proven. By hiring case managers who can provide wraparound services, students are more likely to be able to stay in their homes and communities. Smaller classroom sizes allow teachers to customize their teaching to meet different individual needs, and improve students’ overall test-scores and graduation rates.
With current inflation rates and the threat of a recession, I recognize that the cost of living is becoming more and more expensive and that an increased property tax may be financially strenuous to some. This is why the school board has simultaneously passed the Homestead Tax Exemption, meaning many homeowners will pay less in taxes than what they were paying before. And with the new 2022-2023 budget released, we are now better positioned to make a decision to raise or lower property taxes next summer that would be more favorable for our community.
When we prioritize our schools creating a safe climate and strong relationships with students, families, and the community, we are also prioritizing community safety and expanding the workforce. When we invest in our students, they will see that Erie is a place that cares about them and wants them to stay, long after they graduate.
The future of Erie is in our young people — we owe it to our students and our community to protect these critical student programs.
Leatra Tate, Ph.D., is a member of the Erie School Board.