Legislators Ask for Our Help

Yesterday, three state legislators from Yinzer Nation asked for our help. Speaking last night at the Partners for Public Education event in South Fayette, Sen. Wayne Fontana, Rep. Nick Kotick, and Rep. Jesse White explained that the atmosphere in Harrisburg toward school funding is “hostile” and “negative” and that they need public support in this fight for public education.

So how do we give that to them? One easy — and effective — way to show our support is by making phone calls on Monday for the state-wide call-your-legislator day. We can tell them, “We have your back and we want you to be a public school champion.” Our legislators need to know that there is broad support for this issue. (Remember, “It’s as Simple as Talkin’ n’at.”)

They also urged us to reach out through our networks and keep talking about public education with our friends and colleagues. This is another thing that sounds almost “too simple.” But it really works! (For a great example, see “Why Networking is Working.”) Can you think of 5-10 people you could call or email today, encouraging them to connect with us through Yinzercation? and ask them to make phone calls on Monday? Think about especially who you know in the suburban areas. There is absolutely nothing more powerful than personal connections.

Here’s what the Post-Gazette reported on last night’s event:

Legislators Join Forum Calling for Action on Public School Cuts

Three state legislators urged a crowd of about 150 at South Fayette High School on Wednesday to make their voices heard in Harrisburg in order to reverse state cuts to public education.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana and state Reps. Jesse White and Nick Kotick, all Democrats, were speakers at the first forum held by the Partners for Public Education, an organization sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association. Partners for Public Education works to inform residents of public school districts about the effects of the $860 million in funding cuts to public schools last year and the additional $100 million in cuts proposed in Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2012-2013 budget.

“The whole concept is about organizing one strong voice that stands up to Harrisburg and the idea that education is not a priority,” said Mr. Fontana of Brookline.

Residents were asked to join the partnership by filling out a form and paying a $1 fee that would be donated to a food bank.

The legislators all spoke of the difficulty they face in Harrisburg in trying to make education funding a priority in the state budget and said they need the support of the public.

“The arena that we are playing in in Harrisburg has gotten so hostile, so negative,” said Mr. White of Cecil. “They are not trying to solve problems anymore but attacking things.”

Mr. White said teachers have been attacked for making too much money and local school boards have been criticized for spending too much.

He cautioned community members not to be fooled by the “propaganda war” being carried on by the Republican administration, but rather to compare rhetoric with reality.

The governor’s office insists it has increased funding to education in 2012-2013 by $338.1 million, or 3.7 percent. However, $315.8 million of that total is designated to cover the state’s share of district employees’ pension costs. Most of the remainder is earmarked for Social Security and transportation costs.

In addition, the governor’s budget eliminates $100 million in accountability block grant money that was restored to the 2011-2012 budget by the legislature.

“The rhetoric is there is more for public education. The reality is class sizes got bigger, programs smaller and textbooks weren’t bought,” Mr. White said of the $860 million in cuts to districts last year.

The legislators urged residents to contact not only their elected state representatives, but also the offices of the governor and state education secretary. They also urged residents to take the message to their friends and relatives in other communities and ask them to contact their elected officials.

Ron Cowell, a former state legislator and director of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, said Pennsylvania ranks 46 out of the 50 states in terms of state education funding on a per capita basis.

David Taylor, president of the South Fayette Education Association, said his union sponsored the event at South Fayette, but that he expects it to be followed by similar forums in districts across the state.

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