Believe it or not, this Saturday the Pittsburgh Opera is planning to honor Gov. Corbett with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to … wait for it … EDUCATION! I kid you not. The Opera announced that Corbett “will be honored for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest” and that, “as Governor, he has recognized the economic, educational, and social value of the arts.”
Is the Opera so out of touch that it doesn’t realize Gov. Corbett has actually devastated public education, cutting $1 BILLION from Pennsylvania’s schools these past two years? These cuts have crippled local school districts, which have been forced to slash arts education.
The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials conducted a survey of the impact of those cuts last fall and found that 44% of the state’s school districts have already eliminated courses — the first to go? Arts, music, and foreign languages. The very things students need to become educated citizens who will appreciate the arts, be patrons of the arts, and become future artists themselves.
Last week, 1,000 people gathered in Upper Darby, outside of Philadelphia, to protest the state cuts that have forced that district to eliminate all elementary arts and music programming, as well as foreign languages in the middle schools. This is Gov. Corbett’s true legacy in the arts.
And look at what is happening right here in Pittsburgh: our flagship arts school, CAPA, is cutting private music lessons. Taylor Allderdice is laying off its marching band director. Elementary schools across the district are losing music, art, library, and language instruction. How in the world are our kids going to become opera lovers?
Public education is a public good. But Governor Corbett is trying to privatize public education through vouchers and tax credits (which funnel public money into private schools) and the loosening of charter school regulations. Gov. Corbett has clearly lost touch with the reality of Pennsylvania’s schools: for the Opera to salute his “exceptional career as public servant for the good of Western Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth” is a cruel farce.
It’s also farcical to hear the Opera and Gov. Corbett himself touting his credentials as a former teacher. He taught High School for one year in the Pine Grove Area School District out in Schuylkill County. That school district, by the way, has lost $1.1 MILLION in education cuts these past two years.
The de-funding of public education in Pennsylvania is a tragedy of operatic proportions. Instead of celebrating Gov. Corbett, the Pittsburgh Opera ought to stage The Beggars Opera to recognize how public schools have become beggars, hoping to salvage their arts curriculum with donations. That opera is an 18th century classic still popular today for its themes of political corruption and poverty. Sounds just right.
A Call to Action
So here’s what you can do. Plan to attend an “Operatic Rally” organized by our friends at OnePittsburgh on Saturday at 6PM outside the Opera’s headquarters in the Strip District, where they will be hosting Gov. Corbett. This will be a super fun event with people dressed in opera costumes, activities for kids, and lots of student performing arts groups.
But let’s also take advantage of this fantastic opportunity this week to let people know about the real impact of state cuts on our schools. Please pick two, three, or more of these easy things (then report back to the Harrisburg Strategy google group to let everyone know how it’s going):
- Post on the Opera’s Facebook page. Feel free to copy and past this message or write your own:
“It’s outrageous that the Pittsburgh Opera is honoring Gov. Corbett for his contributions to arts education, when he has cut $1 BILLION from Pennsylvania’s public schools. Districts across the state have slashed arts education under his watch. Right here in Pittsburgh, our students are losing art, music, library, and foreign language instruction. How are they going to be future artists and opera lovers? We need equitable and sustainable state funding for public education, not phony awards for Governors who devastate our children’s future.”
- Send a message to your networks using Facebook, Twitter, and email and ask people to forward the message along.
- Send a message to the Opera’s key decision makers:
- Call the Opera: 412-281-0912 x261
- Write a letter to the editor. (Click here for guidelines and contact info for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review, and see our media guide for other regional newspapers.)
- Send a message to any other members you know of the Pittsburgh Opera Board of Directors. These are the folks who are responsible for the decision to honor Gov. Corbett for his “contributions” to education. Here’s the full list:
Christopher Hahn, General Director
Michele Fabrizi, Chair of the Board
John E. Traina, President of the Board
Robert C. Denove, Treasurer of the Board
Alvin W. Filstrup, Ph.D., Secretary of the Board
Nadine E. Bognar G.
Andrew Bonnewell Kenneth S. Brand
Robert N. Brand
Robert G. Brown Frank McD.
Anne Hattler, Ph.D.
Clyde B. Jones, III
Richard A. Pagliari
Mary Anne Papale
Demetrios T. Patrinos
Ellen A. Roth, Ph.D.
Gene Sachs Smith
William M. Swartz, MD
H. Woodruff Turner, Esq.
George R. White, Ph.D.*
BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
James R. Agras Francois J. Bitz
Maryann DePalma Burnett
Lisa M. Cibik, MD
Frank J. Clements. Esq.
J. Alan Crittenden, Esq.
Mark S. Daday
Debora S. Foster
James H. Frey
Anna P. Futrell
Peter J. Germain
Paul J. Gitnik
Charles H. Harff
Update: May 14, 2012
This action continues to go viral! Over 14,000 people read this blog piece in just a few days, launching a social media firestorm and garnering national media coverage. It has been published in the Huffington Post and newspapers coast-to-coast have carried the story, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Philadelphia Inquirer (see “…Until the Fat Lady Sings“). Over 300 people attended the Operatic Rally on Saturday, May 12, 2012, which also received widespread press coverage (see “Encore! Encore!” which includes lots of pictures). This story of the gutting of arts education has struck a powerful nerve because it speaks to the connection between state budget cuts and what is really happening in our schools. Pennsylvania is sending the message loud and clear: we need adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education.