Heating Up

Boy, it’s getting intense as the state budget negotiations heat up. Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi and House majority leader Mike Turzai are trying to get the two Republican caucuses into alignment. Senator Pileggi said they “are working through the details” on public education funding, among other issues, and Rep. Turzai praised his colleague’s budget plan, calling it “fiscally responsible while still balancing the needs of Pennsylvania citizens.” [Post-Gazette, 5-31-12]

What Turzai is calling “fiscally responsible” is actually another $50 million in proposed cuts to public education. That’s on top of the staggering cuts Governor Corbett made last year. Far from being “fiscally responsible,” these cuts have put tremendous negative pressure on local communities across the state.

Take the news from Pittsburgh today: Pittsburgh Public Schools will be sending furlough notices to 285 teachers and other professionals such as school social workers. The notices are provisional, meaning things won’t be finalized until August, but it’s still “expected to be the largest number of teacher layoffs in the district’s history.” [Post-Gazette, 5-31-12] That’s one out of every eight teachers in the district who won’t be returning in the fall. Yet the number of students and their learning needs remain the same.

There’s no doubt that Pittsburgh has some belt tightening to do, with one of the highest per-pupil costs in Pennsylvania. But drastic state budget cuts have forced its hand. And now we’re talking about an additional 285 well-educated, professional people losing their jobs in Southwest PA. There’s a huge multiplier effect on communities with these layoffs, but this supposedly “fiscally conservative” Governor seems to conveniently overlook the economic consequences of his actions.

Now consider how this is happening all across the commonwealth. A new study out this month found that 75% of school districts will furlough or not fill vacancies and more than half have a wage freeze in place (that’s up dramatically from 16% last year). [PASA/PASBO May 2012] And that’s on top of the many thousands of teachers who lost their jobs last year.

A national group called American Working Families has taken notice, launching a two-week television ad campaign in the state looking at the effects of Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts. The organization’s founder, Bud Jackson, said that Gov. Corbett is “one of the worst governors in the country when it comes to helping the middle class and he’s been making things harder for them.” Jackson told CBS News that Corbett has been deceitful: “Corporate friends and campaign donors – he chose to give them tax breaks. His staff – pay raises. And a new SUV for himself and his wife while eliminating health care for our children and cutting our schools by more than $1 billion.” [CBS News, 5-29-12]

And speaking of national attention. Actress, writer, and producer Tina Fey has weighed in on the terrible cuts Pennsylvania schools are being forced to make, especially to the arts. [Washington Post, 5-29-12] Fey is a graduate of Upper Darby School District, which has announced it will eliminate music, art, library, and physical education classes for elementary students and foreign language and technical education for middle school students. She is lending her considerable voice to the cause of public education, urging people to sign a petition that will be presented to Gov. Corbett next week. She also emailed this moving video to her network, to help spread the word about the real consequences of the governor’s budget:

But you don’t have to be a celebrity, or have the financial resources to run television ads, to make a difference. Every time we call our legislators, sign a petition, or participate in a rally we are being heard. Did you see the excellent letters-to-the-editor from Matt Chinman and Steve Karas in yesterday’s Post-Gazette? We are keeping the spotlight on public education and things are certainly heating up.

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