Public education is back in the spotlight and ready for its aria. The Pittsburgh Opera’s outrageous decision to bestow honors on Gov. Corbett this week has touched off a grassroots firestorm, as reported on the front page, above the fold, in the Post-Gazette this morning! Monday’s blog piece, “Arts Education an Operatic Tragedy,” went viral, receiving over 9,000 hits in 48 hours. It has been re-posted nationally, tweeted across the state, and prompted hundreds of comments to the Opera’s Facebook page.
People are justifiably furious that the Opera intends to give Gov. Corbett a lifetime achievement award “for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest” and his supposed recognition “of the economic, educational, and social value of the arts.” [Opera press release, April 10, 2012] In fact, the Governor has actually decimated arts education by slashing $1 BILLION from our schools these past two years.
Corbett only taught High School for one year in the Pine Grove Area school district. If he had stayed in teaching longer, perhaps he would understand the real educational value of the arts. Today’s art students are tomorrow’s artists, audiences, and critical thinkers: but faced with gaping budget holes, districts across the state are stripping art, music, library, and foreign languages from their schools. Just yesterday, the York City School District announced it would eliminate all art, choir and band from every school, elementary through senior high. This on top of cutting all sports, all guidance counselors, and its entire Kindergarten program. [York Dispatch, 5-8-12]
And yet the Opera insists in a statement issued yesterday on its Facebook page, that Gov. Corbett deserves recognition for his “public service career and support of the arts through Pennsylvania Council on the Arts” and because he “oversees the budget.” Presumably they meant the PCA budget, which he has level-funded, but it is precisely because he oversees the entire state budget that people are so incensed.
The Opera did not comment for the Post-Gazette story this morning, but the PCA explained that the Opera is receiving $73,000 from the state this year. That’s wonderful – I’m all for funding the arts – I ran a theater company here in Pittsburgh for ten years so I know exactly how hard it is. But at the same time Gov. Corbett has found a way to maintain arts funding, he cut over $172 MILLION from school districts in Southwest Pennsylvania alone.
This is not about arts funding vs. education funding. (That would be more of “The Old Divide and Conquer Tactic,” and we’re not falling for it.) It’s about priorities. We must have adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education.
Yet with the Opera controversy going viral yesterday, Gov. Corbett had his spokesman, Kevin Harley, repeat the same old line, saying that he had actually “increased funding for K-12 education the last two years.” Perhaps the Governor thinks that if he makes that bogus claim often enough, people will believe him. But as we’ve explained before, Corbett’s proposed budget is “Dishonesty Disguised as Generosity,” collapsing several line items into one so that he can call that an increase, while overall slashing the total education budget by $1 BILLION. (If you’re new to this unfolding drama, I invite you to read The Facts tab on Yinzercation for the full story on the budget, false claims, the impact on our schools, and alternative revenue ideas.)
Mr. Harley then dismissed the uproar over the defunding of arts education by sniffing, “People can protest whatever they want. It is the season of protest.” Indeed. I hope you are planning to attend the “Operatic Rally” on Saturday at 6PM, staged by our friends at OnePittsburgh to greet the Governor before he attends the $750 per plate gala. It will be a family friendly good time with hot dogs (including veggie) and cotton candy. Feel free to wear your Viking hats and other operatic costumes.
Here are two things you can do right now to keep the tragedy of arts education funding in the spotlight:
- Comment on today’s Post-Gazette story. Just leave a quick note explaining what is really going on in our schools with the devastating state budget cuts. Use the paper’s email button to send the article to all your friends and ask them to comment, too: this will keep the article at the top of the news stack and in the spotlight!
- Call your legislators. Even if they are supporters of public education, they need to hear from us and you could ask them when they are going to issue a statement on this current drama: now is the time to move funding for public education center stage. Click here to find your legislators’ contact information.