Letter: Philanthropy won’t save Philly schools; rich people should pay more taxes

Below we’ve excerpted an inspiring letter from the Philadelphia chapter of Resource Generation recently published by Nonprofit Quarterly, Philly.com, and Newsworks.org.

Resource Generation organizes young people with wealth to work towards the redistribution of land, wealth, and power. The Philadelphia chapter says: “We’re taking a stand for a healthier society — one we all deserve. We’re proud to call the sector of the philanthropic community that works to shift power and not just money our own. We call on the Bread & Roses community to support organizing efforts to win well-funded public education for everyone.”

To explore education justice with Resource Generation, please contact resourcegenerationphilly@gmail.com.

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We are a group of people in our 20s and 30s with inherited wealth and class privilege who believe that philanthropy has played a role in contributing to the [public education] crisis.

Will Bunch wrote a blog post recently critiquing philanthropic efforts to “fix” Philadelphia’s public education. We agree: When philanthropists pour money into alternatives like individual charter schools or the privately run Philadelphia School Partnership, they erode the development of a healthy public system that equitably serves all. Funding private alternatives supports small-scale interventions that do nothing to address the root causes of inequality. It also weakens the democratic process. Philanthropists should not be the ones deciding what is best for public schools. That decision belongs equally to all the city’s community members.

When we give away money while maintaining the power to decide what gets funded, we perpetuate the injustice we think we’re addressing. When we solve “other people’s” problems while remaining comfortably unimpacted by the issue at hand, we don’t make meaningful change.

Growing up with access to wealth, we were raised with the ability to opt out of “not good enough” public institutions. What our city needs from wealthy people now is for us to advocate for and participate in structural change that will ultimately improve the resourcing of our schools. Require us to opt in to the public sphere, not choose to pay to set our lives apart:

• Tax us more! Pennsylvania has one of the most regressive tax systems in the United States. Wealthy individuals and corporations are not paying our fair share of taxes. Wealth disparity in the U.S. today is at the highest level it has reached since the 1930s. Only reformed tax policies can effectively redistribute wealth.

• Make policies that require businesses to respect people over profit. Until wealthy people’s means of making money are just, no amount of charitable philanthropy will cancel out the exploitation that initially created the wealth.

• Fund organizing efforts by teachers, parents, students, and community members that are focused on creating well-funded, locally controlled public schools. These efforts develop leaders, strengthen democracy, and lead to change that is desired by those most directly affected.

We inherited wealth through our families’ intention that it would make our lives better, but we know it has contributed to isolating us and perpetuating poverty. We envision an alternative role for ourselves in creating a city that values all of its citizens.

Submitted by Resource Generation Philadelphia chapter members: Hillary Blecker, Sarah Burgess, M.J. Kaufman, Aaron Kreider, Sara Narva, Jessica Rosenberg, Julia Stone, and an anonymous member.