The Governor’s Rash

Our grassroots movement for public education is like a bad case of poison ivy over at the Governor’s office: we won’t go away and he just has to scratch. We are forcing him to pay attention. And you know what your mother told you would happen if you scratch that poison ivy rash – yep, it spreads.

Yesterday Governor Corbett repeated his “no-new-taxes” line to the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce over the sound of hundreds of protestors outside. Our colleagues in the public education movement there report that he slipped down an alley before his talk to avoid having to see the massive demonstration, but he could still hear them as he told the business crowd, “public schools that receive taxpayer financing need to cut costs.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5-16-12]

Ah, yes. It’s lovely how the Governor conveniently says schools need to cut costs, while shrugging his shoulders at the furor over the opera controversy and blaming school districts for making cuts to arts programs. This is the governor’s new talking point: don’t blame me, blame the school districts for making cuts, all the while I tell them they have to make more cuts.

Mrs. Corbett waded into this fray on Saturday night during her acceptance speech at the Pittsburgh Opera gala. You will notice that this blog has never once mentioned Mrs. Corbett, as we are solely concerned with her husband’s role as governor and his policies. But the governor apparently handed his talking points to his wife that evening, and was content to have her remark that cutting arts education “ultimately becomes a decision by each school district on how to prioritize its spending.” [Post-Gazette, Seen Column, 5-15-12]

And these are literally the governor’s talking points. We’ve just learned that as the opera controversy went viral last week, the governor had his special assistant, Dennis Roddy, send a memo over to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. [Post-Gazette, Clarification, 5-15-12] That would be the same Dennis Roddy, a former Post-Gazette columnist, who weighed in on this blog a few months ago, posting the governor’s anti-public-education messages without disclosing his new affiliation as the governor’s paid mouthpiece. (See “We’re Getting Their Attention.”)

The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts then provided those talking points to the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC), which sent out an “Advocacy and Cultural Policy” alert to 230 arts organizations in the region. On Monday, GPAC board member, founder, and longtime Pittsburgh arts leader, Charlie Humphrey, resigned in disgust over that alert, saying, “To send email to the GPAC membership under the heading ‘Arts Advocacy Alerts,’ and then claim to not be taking a position, stretches credulity.” [Post-Gazette, 5-15-12]

That alert included several bullet points about Mrs. Corbett’s support of the arts (fine) and the fact that Gov. Corbett has maintained level funding for the Pennsylvania Arts Council (also fine). But it closes with a whopper: first, it throws in a red herring, claiming that “Many are angry about state control and high-stakes testing imposed by the states.” Much of that is actually a federal mandate, by the way, but even so, this is completely off topic. The same bullet point then proceeds to Corbett’s tired and patently false assertion that he has actually increased funding to public schools. I know we have lots of new readers, so in case you are just joining us, here are our responses to Corbett’s persistent claims about his budget:

The GPAC alert makes it clear that Roddy’s name was attached to the information they received and redistributed. Perhaps GPAC CEO Mitch Swain did not realize Roddy had switched jobs when he wrote, “Dennis Roddey [sic] of the Post Gazette, has reported that the Governor restored the $800 million that the previous administration had taken out [from the education budget].” Either way, it’s pretty clear Roddy’s fingerprints are all over these talking points and that they are coming directly from the Governor’s office.

Now here’s the kicker. That same GPAC bullet item includes the governor’s new talking point: “The decisions to cut arts teachers are not being made at the state level by the Governor, but at the local level by school boards.” The Governor had this information distributed via Dennis Roddy and the Arts Council last week, had his wife repeat it at the Opera gala on Saturday night, and dropped it into his speech at the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce yesterday.

This is a bit like cutting someone off at the knees and then blaming them for being short. (As a short person, I take extra offense at this.) In essence, the Governor is saying: hey, we gave schools more money, but actually, we have no money in the state so schools need to cut costs, and it’s their fault if they are cutting arts education so don’t blame me. Of course, the Governor has in fact cut $1 BILLION from our public schools, forcing them to make horrendous decisions. School districts are not just cutting the arts, but AP classes, foreign languages, librarians, special education, tutoring programs – and in many places, core subjects like math, English, science, and social studies. [PASBO & PASA report, September 2011]

The people of Pennsylvania are outraged over the losses in their schools and can see straight through the Governor’s talking points to the massive cuts in the state budget. Here’s another indication of just how clear our vision is: yesterday’s article in the Post-Gazette about Charlie Humphrey’s resignation from the GPAC board ended the day at the top of the Most Recommended list. Humphrey’s principled stand against GPAC’s “alert” memo, parroting the Governor’s talking points, beat out the cute Chihuahua story about puppies getting new homes and Hines Ward getting a job offer. Now in Yinzer Nation, that is saying something!

Feel that poison ivy? It just doesn’t go away.

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