Tom Corbett's Very Bad Week
It was worse than a bad hair day -- last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett had a bad education week. Wherever he showed up, people protested. As he spoke to the Chamber of Commerce in Reading on Monday, over 100 people stood outside chanting. Bryan Sanguinito, president of the Reading Education Association, put it bluntly: “We’re here to let the governor know that he’s not welcome here in Reading because of what he has done to our students and to our schools.” Reading, which is teetering on the edge of “distressed” school status, is laying off 170 more teachers this year.
Tuesday, Gov. Corbett’s office refused to accept letters from school children in Pittsburgh, and was greeted with a rally at his front door in Harrisburg. (See “ The Governor Must Listen.”)
But Wednesday took the cake. Pennsylvania literally took to the streets, protesting Gov. Corbett’s education cuts with large demonstrations in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. In Philadelphia, several thousand people marched through the streets chanting, “Save our schools!” Organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the parade included a sea of bus drivers, janitors, and other school workers who have been uniformly pink slipped by the state in its effort to privatize the Philadelphia education system. Fourteen people were arrested in a peaceful sit-down demonstration designed to get the Governor’s attention.
At the very same time, several hundred people marched through the streets of Pittsburgh to Governor Corbett’s downtown office. After denying entrance to a small group of moms and kids on Tuesday, it was no surprise that the governor’s office refused to accept a message from representatives of this group. Eleven protestors then sat peacefully in the street in a planned demonstration and were arrested for blocking traffic. These folks – parents, teachers, school workers, preachers, community members – chose to take a bold stand to send a strong message to the Governor. “We can’t afford to stand by and watch public education eroded,” the Rev. David Thornton of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District, told the crowd. Governor Corbett “needs to understand that we are in this fight for the long haul because we care about our children and quality public education for all children.”
Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, over 1,000 people marched to the capitol building in support of the public schools in the state’s capitol. State budget cuts have exacerbated an already dire situation for the Harrisburg school district, which is one of our “distressed” school districts (along with Duquesne right here in the heart of Yinzer Nation). Parents from the Shippensburg and Chambersburg area marched along in solidarity and students delivered thousands of letters to legislators.
And all day long on Wednesday, people across Pennsylvania participated in a state-wide call-in-day, phoning the Governor’s office and their state legislators. Parents at several Pittsburgh Public Schools made flyers with information about specific cuts to their schools and stood on the sidewalks handing them out to families as they dropped off and picked up their children, urging people to call their representatives.
Governor Corbett might have been shutting his eyes and plugging his ears all day, hoping this would all go away. But he could hardly ignore the massive protests from one end of the state to the other. By noon, he had his office email a statement to reporters repeating his tired claim that he has not cut money from education. How he can say this with a straight face these days in anyone’s guess, as overwhelming evidence to the contrary stares back at him.