Protesters call for education funding

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Bearing signs that said “Save Our Schools” and shirts that read “Stand For Children, Stand For Public Schools,” about 200 union activists, clergy members and community activists marched from the United Steelworkers offices to deliver a symbolic yellow pencil to Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pittsburgh office and ask that he add additional funding to the budget for education.

CallingOutCorbett
CALLING OUT CORBETT—Demanding that proposed state budget cuts to education be restored, protesters rally outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s Fifth Avenue office May 23. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)

When they were denied admission, several volunteers sat down to block traffic on Fifth Avenue and demanded to be arrested. After asking multiple times if they “were sure,” Pittsburgh police escorted them to a waiting paddy wagon.

Police Cmdr. George Trotsky said the protesters were civil, but when they refused to get out of the street, he had to cite them for blocking traffic.

Calling the governor “Tom Corporate,” arrested protester Rev. David Thornton, pastor at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church, said the struggle for education funding would continue.

“We can’t afford to stand and watch public education be eroded,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul because we care about our children and quality public education for all children.”

The protest followed Pittsburgh Superintendent of Schools Linda Lane’s announcement that the district would be cutting 1/6, 300 to 400 teachers, of its teaching staff as part of its efforts to address a budget shortfall. Fifty-five of those are special education teachers, while another 14 paraprofessionals and nine administrators will also be laid off.

Philadelphia plans to lay off thousands of employees as it closes 64 schools in the next five years, and earlier this year the Chester Upland District ran out of money entirely. Closer to home, the state is directing 7th- and 8th-grade students in the bankrupt Duquesne School District be sent to either East Allegheny or West Mifflin School District next fall.

The protesters called for Corbett to “restore a billion dollars” he cut from education. Corbett’s office claims that representation is untrue. Spokesman Kevin Harley released a statement saying the governor has not replaced almost $900,000 in one-time federal stimulus money that funded school operations in the 2010-2011 school year.

Corbett has also proposed cutting another $100 million in bloc grants currently used for early education and all-day kindergarten. The governor said he plans to sign a budget on time, meaning it must be finalized by the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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