I support the People's Maps

My name is Susan Knoll. I am a resident of Lancaster City, in House District 96 (Mike Sturla-D) and Senate District 13 (Scott Martin-R). I previously submitted testimony on the needs of our community when it comes to representation in Harrisburg, specifically as it pertains to the needs of our school district. My main concern with our current representation is that our school district, the School District of Lancaster, a majority Democratic district, is represented by four state representatives, three of whom are Republican and do not reside in our city or school district area. Additionally, our state senator, Scott Martin, is a Republican, who also resides far outside of our city. Of the above state legislators, only one (Sturla) has a district office in the city of Lancaster. The rest have offices miles outside of the city, in rural areas of our county. Senator Martin used to have an office in downtown Lancaster, but last year, he moved his office to Strasburg, Pennsylvania. The fact that the majority of our school district’s representatives have offices located far outside of the city speaks volumes about their regard for and interest in the educational needs of our city’s children. In March of 2021, fed up with the General Assembly’s inaction around making any serious effort to increase funding for our school district (which is underfunded by approximately $4500/student per state standards), a group of approximately 20 community members, including teachers and parents, met with Senators Scott Martin and Ryan Aument. Both of them have very powerful positions as Senate Education Committee members (Martin is the chair). Those of us who have seen firsthand the disparities between school districts tried to explain the inequities we’ve seen, and we pleaded with them to prioritize the School District of Lancaster as they consider funding priorities in the 2021-2022 state budget proposal. Senator Martin’s response was that he would not approve legislation that would equitably distribute education funding in our state, as it would hurt many school districts that he represents, while only helping a few of them (including ours, which is hurting a lot). Senator Aument’s response was that he was going to focus solely on “school choice” legislation so that parents can choose the best educational option for their children. Never mind that parents who are working 60-80 hours/week at $8/hour--the reality for a large portion of parents in our district--don’t exactly have the luxury of choosing schools or the fact that most of their children would not be admitted to private schools, for many reasons. Senator Aument’s response showed a level of tone-deafness that was alarming and demonstrated how completely out of touch he is with the realities of the many families living in the urban areas of our state. Senator Martin co-sponsored a bill (SB 123) in Feb. 2021 that would equitably distribute state money to schools via the Fair Funding Formula, but then, as chair, never brought the bill up for a vote. After our meeting with him, he went on to write his own bill (SB 1) to expand the state’s voucher program for private schools, among other privatization measures such as the expansion of charter schools with no local control. This is especially alarming because charter schools, playing off the desperation of parents in underfunded school districts, tend to set up in communities exactly like Lancaster, while charging districts exorbitant tuition rates and starving them of much-needed funding. Martin did bring that bill up for a vote, it passed along party lines, and now awaits in the House. Several constituents from our district met with Martin again in May 2021, to ask him to please reconsider his stance on using state tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition for a small minority, at the expense of our city’s public school children. The pleas again fell on deaf ears. In an act of solidarity and desperation, in June 2021, 16 superintendents of Lancaster County public schools sent a letter to Martin in response to SB 1, pleading with him to stop the privatization of education and focus instead on adequately funding public schools, and it went completely ignored by both Martin and Aument, as well as House Speaker Bryan Cutler (also a representative of our school district). This is all to say that, when it comes to advocating for our school district and the needs of the children therein, four out of our five state legislators do not have skin in the game and they have no incentive to represent our kids’ educational needs (aside from just doing what is right). They do not reside anywhere near our city, and they represent districts that are solidly red, and mostly rural, so there is no real incentive to do anything differently when it comes to our city’s school funding problem. This comes at a grave cost to our community and its children, as well as our faith that we live in a truly representative democracy where all have the opportunity to prosper. One way to begin remedying this hopeless situation is to adopt the People’s Maps that were recently submitted by Fair Districts PA. As my story above illustrates, it is not good for a community to be represented by people who are not grounded in the reality of their constituents, and face no real challenge to change the status quo of their voting records. What I like about the People’s Maps is that they would lessen our district’s representatives from four to two, in effect increasing their accountability to the families in those districts--something we have not had in a very long time (if ever). It would also keep the parts of our city that are majority Black and Latinx together and give them more of a voice, which is far too often drowned out by the slivering and merging of their communities into larger suburban, mostly white, areas with our current district lines. Ultimately, it keeps areas with similar needs together, be it rural, suburban, and metro. This means the representative in those districts can more accurately represent the voices and needs of those communities. I respectfully request that the Legislative Reapportionment Commission give serious consideration to the People’s Maps, as they would undoubtedly reduce the desperation and frustration that so many of us here in the School District of Lancaster feel when we are consistently ignored and disregarded by those who are supposed to be representing our kids’ best interests. The needs of those living in cities with high amounts of poverty are nothing like those who live out in the farmlands of rural Pennsylvania; we should respect that and take that into serious consideration as we redraw our state’s district maps. Thank you.