Legislators Back to – This?

Welcome back, legislators. I know today is your first day back in session after two months off for your summer break. A lot has happened since the beginning of July. But it’s hard to leave the sunshine and put away your flip-flops. I get it. So maybe you just need to ease into things.

Maybe that’s why the very first thing the Senate Education Committee will consider when it meets tomorrow morning is a bill that would allow teachers and other school staff to carry concealed guns. Because you can’t actually be serious. You’re planning to sip your coffee, shake the sand out of your briefcase, and then vote a quick “no” on this ridiculous legislation, right?

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Don White (a Republican from Indiana, PA), said that, “we must look at all options when it comes to improving the safety and security” of our schools, and that teachers need “more choices … to protect students.” [The Morning Call, 9-12-14] Um, yeah. Because gun toting teachers are a great idea and really protect kids. Not. While you were sitting by the pool last week, did you happen to see the story about the Utah teacher whose legally concealed gun went off in the bathroom, sending her to the hospital with injuries from flying toilet shrapnel? I kid you not, you can’t make this stuff up. [Tribune Review, 9-11-14] And this begs the question: what if that had been a child in her classroom rather than a potty that she managed to accidentally blow up?

While you are busy debating the supposed merits of permitting such scenarios to occur in Pennsylvania classrooms, let us remind you of the real danger our children are facing every single day: the de-funding of their public schools. Our students have been back in their classrooms for three weeks now without the resources they deserve. Because of four years of draconian state budget cuts and austerity, our kids are missing 20,000 of their teachers, countless programs, and basic supplies.

The situation in Philadelphia is so bad that parents there are suing the state. [The Notebook, 9-11-14] Last year, families from across that city filed 825 complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (which has been running Philadelphia schools for the past 13 years) in a campaign organized by Parents United. The complaints detailed serious threats to student health and safety, over-crowding, missing textbooks, and a lack of critical services causing direct harm to kids. Yet the state did not investigate a single complaint and now parents are forced to sue to hold decision makers accountable for conditions in the schools.

Last week Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill wrote a great article about Pittsburgh Manchester K-8, two years after our “Manchester Miracle” at that school. Despite thousands of new books donated by the community and a gorgeous new library space – and despite amazing volunteers such as Mr. Wallace Sapp and Mr. Joseph Kennedy featured in the article – Manchester still only has a librarian once a week and some of the starkest disparities in the city. [Post-Gazette, 9-11-14] My own middle school children do not have library at all! That’s right: at a school with one of the largest “achievement gaps” in Pittsburgh, not one middle school student has access to a single library book.

Dearest legislators, our kids need more library books in their lives, not guns. This crazy bill you will be talking about disrespects our children who face an epidemic of gun violence in their lives. (You might recall the piece I wrote last year after one particularly grueling week in which three different children at our school lost family members to gun violence). So, Senator White, if you and your colleagues are serious about protecting our children in their schools, you could start by funding them – adequately, equitably, predictably, and sustainably. You can even leave your sunglasses on, if it makes you feel better.

3 thoughts on “Legislators Back to – This?

  1. The solution to every problem is MOAR GUNZ!!!

    Seriously, the gentleman from Indiana is merely scoring points with his rural constituents and carrying out his marching orders from the NRA and ALEC.

  2. I agree that debating teachers ability to carry guns in school should be low priority, however I’m not so sure the de-funding issue should be the focus. If the de-funding is so bad then how is it PPS has one of the highest per pupil spending in the state? I’d personally like to see this blog focus our efforts on getting a fair collective bargaining agreement in 2015, one that doesn’t de-fund our schools. You cite as de-funding evidence schools without librarians. One reason librarians are no longer in the schools full time is because senior level librarians were too expensive for the site-based budget. Therefore the PPS BOE assigned them as a shared resource and manged this at central office. Not the smartest move I personally would’ve liked the district to allow principals to do what they want, but I digress. It wasn’t because some Republican legislature cut funding to PPS therefore librarians were fired. They were fired because our tax base couldn’t afford Senior librarians at 70k per year which the collective bargaining allowed. When Governor Wolf imposes a tax to increase education funding (yay) do you think that librarians suddenly start becoming affordable at 70k per year? Change the contract then hire the librarians you’ll be able to hire 2 or 3 more of them. Also I believe that the racial gap has decreased without the librarians in some schools so how much did they really help?

  3. Right on! What a ridiculous proposal to endanger our children with guns in schools. What we need are more para professionals and all the support services that children, trachers, and families need to be successful

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