Sing it to the Legislators

Boy have we hit an operatic nerve! People all across Pennsylvania are incensed that the Pittsburgh Opera intends to honor Gov. Corbett with a lifetime achievement award for his “contributions” to education, when he has actually cut $1 BILLION to our schools and gutted arts education. Yesterday’s blog post on this outrageous award has received over 4,000 hits in less than 24 hours! (And the number just keeps jumping.) It’s been re-posted to national websites and tweeted around the state; people are writing letters to the Opera’s Board of directors and letters to the editor; and nearly 200 people have already posted comments to the Opera’s Facebook page.

We’ve gone viral, folks. But it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t also let our legislators know why we are upset. This isn’t about the Opera and it’s crazy choice of awardees. It’s about what the de-funding of public education is doing to our schools. We have to tell our state representatives exactly what that means: the elimination of art, music, library, and foreign languages. Cuts to special-ed and after-school tutoring programs for our most struggling students. Thousands of teachers laid off around the state. Huge increases in class sizes.

Our legislators are debating the state budget right now. This is a golden moment and we must seize it by the horns (I’m thinking operatic Viking helmet horns, of course). The state Senate today is considering a new budget proposal that would restore funding to higher education, which Corbett proposed cutting by 30%, and would give back $50 million of his proposed $100 million in cuts to accountability block grants, which most school districts use to fund Kindergarten and early childhood education.

This is a step in the right direction, of course, but still leaves school districts $50 million in the hole and reeling from the consequences of the nearly $1 BILLION in cuts enacted last year. What we need is adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education. Yet the Corbett administration immediately reacted to the proposed Senate budget plan, saying, “It would move the state farther away from achieving long-term structural balance.” And Corbett himself pledged again yesterday that he “will not increase the taxes to make the budget pie bigger.” [Post-Gazette, 5-8-12]

No one is asking for more pie. Right now schools are starring in The Beggars Opera, pan-handling for crumbs. This is a matter of priorities and our Governor and legislators need to consider revenue alternatives. (We’ve come up with lots of ideas for them: see, “Where’s the Money?”) You do not achieve “long-term structural balance” by defunding public education and decimating the future of our children.

So what are we going to do? Get your Viking helmets on, and call your state representative and state senator. (Click here for their contact information.) Really, this is EASY to do. Just tell them why it’s ridiculous that the Opera plans to recognize Gov. Corbett and what his budget cuts have done to arts education. Tell them we must have equitable and sustainable state funding for public education. Then head over to Yinzercation’s Facebook page and share with everyone what your legislators have to say. This is our moment in the spotlight – let’s put public education center-stage.

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