Unbelievable. Now the Governor won’t even accept letters from children. Yesterday morning, a group of Pittsburgh Public School students and their parents took time out of their school and work days to visit Governor Corbett’s Pittsburgh office. They had planned to deliver the children’s hand-drawn posters, banners, and letters that they had made explaining how much they love their public schools, but they were not even allowed to enter the office.
This has to be a new low, even for this Governor. These kids were ready to learn about democracy and how our government works. Instead, they got a lesson in nasty politics and saw just how cut off – literally – Gov. Corbett is from the people of Pennsylvania.
The group of moms and kids entered Piatt Place – some of the most expensive real estate in downtown Pittsburgh – intending to simply drop off their letters. They also hoped to leave petitions signed by hundreds of people from Southwest Pennsylvania in support of public education. However, the Governor’s staff refused to allow the children to go upstairs, complained that they didn’t have an appointment (to deliver letters?), and became quite angry and unpleasant. The parents explained that they were not asking for an appointment to meet with someone, they simply wished to leave the letters for the Governor, but the staff would not even consider sending someone down to the lobby to accept them.
When Jodi Hirsch, who helped organize the visit, asked the office for a statement so they could explain to the media why the Governor would not accept letters from children, a woman named Roxy abruptly hung up the phone, saying “that’s it, this conversation is over.” As Hirsch observed, “Maybe some of the funding for those fancy offices should be used to hire an additional staff person who can help accept 5 minute visits from children … even an intern could have politely accepted the materials.”
Is this Governor so removed from the people of Pennsylvania that he has instructed his staff not to accept letters from school children? How is this politicization of our education system and the cruel treatment of our youngest citizens helping our schools and students?
Governor Corbett wasn’t even in his Pittsburgh office yesterday. But Pittsburgh went to Harrisburg to deliver our message loud and clear. Kathy Newman led a “Yinzercation Delegation” to the state capitol, filling a bus with public education advocates. The group split into teams and had substantial meetings with four key members of the Democratic party in Allegheny County: they met with staff members in the offices of Jay Costa, Frank Dermody, and Dan Frankel, and then had a 30 minute meeting with Representative Matt Smith in person. At each of these meetings the group asked our representative to:
- Write a letter/email to his constituents about education
- Put something about the education budget on his website
- Have someone on his staff follow Yinzercation
- Help delay the budget vote so that there is time to find out about actual state revenues and get more money for education in the budget
- Work to restore more funding/prevent more cuts for next year
The staff members of each of these representatives agreed to do most, if not all, of these things. The group also delivered packets of letters collected at the “Write Now!” and Mock Bake Sale events to: Dan Frankel, Jay Costa, Jim Ferlo, Wayne Fontana, Jake Wheatley, Mark Mustio, Adam Ravenstahl, Paul Costa, John Pippy, and Mike Turzai. Newman reports that even though they didn’t have letters for Phyllis Mundy, they visited her because “the kid delegation was so fired up they started looking for reps to talk to wherever they could find them!”
The letters gave the group a great excuse to “drop by” these offices and have significant conversations with receptionists and other members of the representative’s staff. For example, John Pippy’s staff was very polite and talked for the group for ten minutes. Pippy, a Republican from the South Hills, did not seek re-election; businessman D. Raja won the Republican nomination for that seat, though if he wins in the fall, he may not be in office long as the congressional redistricting may exclude his hometown of Mt. Lebanon once the new lines are settled on. So this is going to be an important office to keep in touch with.
The children’s delegation, led by parents Jeff Shook, Ali Patterson and Sarah Nunley, delivered a packet of letters to Mike Turzai’s office. Turzai, a Republican from the North Hills, is absolutely critical in this fight for public education (see more on him in “Rep. Turzai’s 1.7 million Reasons”). Unfortunately, his staff members were not at all receptive, but students Maya Shook and Abigail Segel spoke eloquently and poignantly about education. Newman said, “We were so proud of them, and impressed by their ability to advocate for themselves!”
After two hours of lobbying, the group joined 80 members of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) for a rally in the Capitol rotunda. Pittsburgh Montessori parent Cassi Schafer spoke for our group, and both Rep. Frankel and Rep. Smith gave impassioned speeches. Finally, the delegation walked a short way over to the office Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. Newman reports that “the kids were again the stars of the show, explaining to Secretary Tomalis’s second in command how the budget cuts are affecting their education.”
Building on our visit, advocates from OnePittsburgh made hundreds of phone calls to the Governor’s office supporting education and public funding for our public goods. The phone calls kept going until the Governor actually shut down his phones! This is outrageous behavior from a man who does not want to hear from the people of Pennsylvania.
Now it is your turn to make a few phone calls. Today is the final state-wide call-in-day organized by our friends at Ed Voters PA. Use this handy on-line tool to look up your state representative and senator and their contact information. Governor Corbett’s office is: (717) 787-2500. You can also use this Call-in-Day Q&A sheet created by parents at Pittsburgh Colfax as a guide. Please take a few minutes to tell the Governor and your legislators that they must listen: we need adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education.