Guest Comment: Gerrymandering Enables Inequity in School Funding in Pennsylvania | Opinion
Gerrymandering is a crafty and underhanded political tactic that has been used by politicians since 1812. It is a ploy used by the political party controlling a state legislature to put the package in its favor by manipulating electoral district boundaries. No matter which party is in power, Republican or Democrat, play this game by reorganizing the borders so that their party can stay in power.
The term gerrymandering was named after the American politician Eldridge Gerry, who, as governor of Massachusetts in 1812, signed a bill creating a partisan district in the Boston area resembling an awkward-looking salamander. , inspiring a name for this corruption of the democratic process.
Gerrymandering can be used to aid or hinder a particular demographic, such as political, ethnic, racial, religious, or class groups. Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents, by allowing politicians to draw the lines of Congress and Senate, choosing their voters instead of voters choosing politicians. âThe redistribution is like an election upside down,â said Thomas Hofeller, former president of the Republican National Committee redistribution in reference to the 2000 US census. âIt’s a big event. Usually voters choose politicians. In the redistribution, politicians choose their voters. “
Political lines should be drawn to increase competitive elections and create constituencies where every party has a chance to win. County and town, borough, city, all municipal divisions should be kept to a minimum. Pottstown in Montgomery County is a prime example of what is wrong with this process. The city is 5.5 square miles, but has two state officials from two different political parties representing it, which really means that no one can fully represent Pottstown’s interests. The school district, which includes the entire city and is extremely underfunded, should be represented by one person who pursues the mission of seeking to meet the needs of the students, the city and its people. A fully dedicated state representative in Pottstown could help the city achieve equity in education funding far better than two representatives from opposite sides of the table.
Over the years, the fight for fair constituencies and the fight for fair funding of schools have continued without much success in PA. Strong bipartisan support in Harrisburg for these two issues produced many bills, but they were not brought forward by the committee because the committee chair did not put them to a vote. In Harrisburg, the committee chair has the exclusive power to decide whether a bill will be voted on in committee, and chairs are chosen by the Speaker of the House, who essentially runs the roost. In the Senate, there is a similar process, which means things can stop even if there is bipartisan support on an issue.
The system allows bipartisan sponsored bills to remain in place without any action being taken to move them forward, even if members of both parties support them. This is particularly evident with bills that attempt to address the equity of school funding. Harrisburg politicians admit that there is a deep problem with the way Pennsylvania public schools are funded, but have not moved forward to address the problem in any meaningful way. Pennsylvania is 45th in the country in state funding for public education, and 50th, the lowest a barrel, in state funding of underfunded schools.
As long as ruling politicians are allowed to draw the boundaries of counties and municipalities to choose their own voters, and committee chairs are allowed to prevent bipartisan bills from being voted on, unfair school funding will remain anchored in Pennsylvania.
As the redistribution begins in Harrisburg, it should be impartial citizens who draw the cards with strict criteria guiding the process. Two organizations, Fair Districts and Draw the Lines have had exceptional citizen-drawn maps that offer better representation than anything from the political world of Harrisburg. Let’s look at these cards and choose one of the best for this purpose. Our children suffer from the scandalous failure to properly fund schools, a failure enabled by gerrymandering. This terribly backward state of affairs in Pennsylvania must end.