Yesterday, Parents United joined with sister groups across the state and our partners PCAPs, Fight for Philly and Action United to begin an “as long as it takes” sit-in of the governor’s office until the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passes a responsible budget for our schools.
The timing couldn’t be more important. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a budget that eviscerated Governor Corbett’s proposal for education funding, eliminating 70% (you read that right) of proposed block grants with consequences of at least $20 million for Philadelphia public schools. It’s an opening salvo for sure – changes will come – but it’s a clear reminder of how far apart our state’s legislative priorities are from the public’s priorities. The following day, Governor Corbett held a press conference and declared that it was essentially pension reform or bust. No movement on tax revenue or dollars for education unless pension reform went through.
Passing by a gaggle of Marcellus Shale lobbyists, it’s a reminder that a host of special interests descend upon Harrisburg at this time – and for good reason. The indecisiveness of the budget at this late date is proof of the value of the 19 legislative visits we divvied up yesterday thanks to the fantastic scheduling work of PCCY. By far, the most significant of our meetings was with Budget Secretary Charles Zogby. Good points about the meeting with the Secretary:
- He acknowledged the situation of Philadelphia’s public schools as “intolerable,” a pretty significant move from someone who has in the past declared the Philly situation as adequate, if not ideal.
- He claimed that this was the first time the Superintendent, the SRC leadership and the Governor’s office were in alignment – which we quickly pointed out has only resulted in the District being underfunded more than ever.
- He actually agreed to visit Philly public schools in the fall (we’ll try to make sure that happens).
- He expressed the administration’ s support for charter reimbursements and a shale tax while acknowledging the differentials around the flat special education funding formula (I wouldn’t quite say he expressed support).
But in true administrative vein, he doubled down on a discussion about pension reform in exchange for horsetrading votes for a cigarette tax, which was essentially the message of the Governor’s press conference. He also did it in characteristic Zogby style:
“If Philadelphia Democrats aren’t going to be there for what needs to be done, then nobody’s going to be there for them,” said state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby. “And they can go home and tell their constituents why they couldn’t get money for the School District.”
The rhetoric of Harrisburg is pretty dreadful at budget season. Witness what Principal Chris Lehmann had to endure in an exchange with a Norristown legislator:
Other legislative visits varied in depth and substances. A big negative was a visit with a staff person in Rep. Bill Keller’s district. Keller represents GAMP, AS Jenks, Fell, Furness, Key Southwark, Taggart and South Philadelphia High, among others. According to the staff person, Rep. Keller refuses to take a position on the cigarette tax, apparently because his staff person has said he “has not made a decision” – even though it’s been a full year since this question has been before the Philadelphia delegation.
Call Keller today and tell him June 27th is not the time to be indecisive and on the bench for Philadelphia: 717-787-5774
It’s hard to believe that our state leadership is literally slap-dashing a budget together but we can’t be naive that a lot of things move in these final days and hours. It matters that our legislators know the public is watching.
That’s why we decided to stand – and more importantly SIT – beside education supporters from across the state in an action led by our PCAPs, Action United, and Fight for Philly allies. We held a press conference in the rotunda, marched to the governor’s office, then moved into the hallway, chanting “Fund our Schools!” as the governor’s staff walked by. The sit-in is about a constant public presence as these crazy legislative days wind down. They won’t pass the budget without passing by the very people who live the consequences of the policies they promote. We chanted, told our stories and sang songs. When the building shut down, we moved out and showed up this very same morning. We’re not there to get arrested. We’re there to bear witness, have our voices heard, and bring a little bit of the real world into the Capitol hallways.
If you can join the sit-in for a few hours or a day, please stop by. Contact Fight for Philly (email@example.com) or PCAPS (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make contributions or see about the effort.
Watch Fox News story on the sit-in.