Teachers, students protest proposed school cuts at Pa. capital

Teachers, parents, and students rally at the Capitol while lawmakers inside close in on a deal to roll back proposed cuts in education aid. MARC LEVY / Associated Press
Teachers, parents, and students rally at the Capitol while lawmakers inside close in on a deal to roll back proposed cuts in education aid. MARC LEVY / Associated Press
Posted: June 14, 2012

HARRISBURG — While legislative leaders met behind closed doors Wednesday to hash out the final elements of the state education budget, hundreds of parents, children, and laid-off teachers staged protests over proposed school cuts at several locations in the capital city.

With sidewalk chalk in hand, several dozen schoolchildren from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and their parents took their message to the governor's front door, several blocks from the Capitol. On their hands and knees, they drew stick-figure pupils in threatened classrooms, art studios and computer labs, and scrawled "Help Our Schools" in fluorescent colors on the pavement outside the executive mansion as police officers looked on.

"So many programs are being cut in the school districts, our classrooms are overcrowded. I'm angry," said Sylana Christopher, a member of a Philadelphia activist group, Action United, which bused her in along with about 100 other people, including her 13-year-old daughter, Jaionna Christopher-Hines.

In February, Gov. Corbett proposed essentially flat-funding basic education aid, and eliminating a $100 million program widely used to fund full-day kindergarten. School districts have yet to recover from last year's hit, when aid shrank by $860 million, leading to as many as 14,000 layoffs of teachers, staff and administrators statewide, according to union and school officials, along with reductions in music, language, arts, and sports programs, and local tax increases. So far this year the financially beleaguered Philadelphia district has made several rounds of layoffs — the most recent trimming 260 teachers and aides.

Legislative leaders and Corbett remain roughly $200 million apart on a final budget amount for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but are closing in on a deal, staff members said Wednesday. The legislature wants to take advantage of higher-than-expected revenues and restore some cuts, particularly in higher education, lifting the final spending total to $27.6 billion. Corbett, warning that the economy remains sluggish at best, wants to stay closer to the $27.1 billion he originally proposed.

At a packed rally in the Capitol Rotunda sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, speakers said schools had suffered enough.

"Mr. Governor, the question is this: Did you lie during your campaign to the voters of Pennsylvania, or did you turn your back on their children?" asked Bryan Sanguinito, a music teacher and one of more than 300 employees who are losing their jobs in Reading's school district.

School-age protesters tried to leave their drawings behind as a kind of gallery on the nine-foot-high gates to Corbett's official home. But as soon as they clipped the poster boards to the bars, police officers came and cut them down. The sidewalk chalk drawings survived — at least till the next rain.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @inkyamy.

This article includes information from the Associated Press.

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