Amid chants of “Hey Corbett, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” hundreds of protesters marched from the United Steelworkers building in downtown Pittsburgh to Governor Tom Corbett’s regional office on Fifth Avenue. They were pulling a large wheeled sign that read, “Save our Schools,” and were calling on the governor to back off of proposed cuts to public education.
“Evidence shows that our governor seems to be more concerned about the privatization of public education, or the 1%, as opposed to the 99% of people here in Pennsylvania trying to achieve quality education so they can have a good living in society,” said David Thornton, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District.
Thornton was one of 11 people arrested for sitting in the intersection at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, snarling morning traffic. Hundreds of others kept to the sidewalk and continued to chant as the others were taken away in a police van.
This has been an ongoing battle of education activists accusing the governor of cutting spending for education, and the Corbett administration saying it didn’t cut a thing.
The issue goes back about three years when Pennsylvania received $1.7 billion from the federal stimulus package. Because of that bump, the state decreased education funding and filled the hole with the federal dollars. But the federal stimulus ran out June 30th of last year, leaving education with about a billion dollars less to spend. To address that, Department of Education Spokesman Tim Eller said Governor Corbett increased state spending for education in the 2011-2012 budget, though added the loss of stimulus still had an impact.
“What the governor has proposed to do for the ’12-’13 budget is further increase the amount of state dollars going into education by about $338 million, so about $9.4 billion dollars would go into public schools for the ’12-’13 fiscal year, which is about $828 million increase from two years ago,” said Eller.
Eller said the governor believes schools are funded sufficiently, and that individual districts will have to do their part as well.
“It doesn’t make sense how the number of students being served has gone down but the number of employees has been going up. So I think what’s facing districts now is that the school boards across Pennsylvania and the districts themselves need to realign their budgets into the priorities of educating students,” he said.
Activists Want More Action
But that’s not enough for some education activists, who continue to call on Governor Corbett and lawmakers to funnel more money into public education. Before being taken away by police, Pastor David Thornton said the budget as-is for education will mean hundreds of lost teacher jobs and program cuts in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“That’s going to affect these children for their adolescence on up, so we need to make sure education has all the money that it needs, all the quality teachers that it needs, to be most effective,” he said.
Wednesday’s march was part of a string demonstrations across the state. Marchers pointed to other areas, including the Chester Upland District, which ran out of money, and Philadelphia, which has announced plans to close 64 schools over five years and lay off thousands of workers.
“This is a statewide issue, and come July 1st, 2,700 SEIU 32BJ workers will be laid off because of these education cuts, and we got a big stake in that, because if they’re going to do that in Philly, they’ll put that show on the road and bring it to Pittsburgh,” said SEIU 32BJ Area Director Hermaine Delaney.
Lawmakers are currently working on the state budget, which will take effect July 1.