Taking it to Harrisburg

From the ‘burgh to H’burg and back in one day. On June 18th, 25 parents, students, and teachers left Pittsburgh under gray skies at 7AM, but arrived in Harrisburg a few hours later under blue, pumped up and ready to meet with their legislators.

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Our bus included folks from across the city, as well as the North Allegheny School District, and two teachers who live in Pittsburgh and teach in Woodland Hills and Mt. Lebanon.

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The trip was organized by volunteer parents with Yinzercation (special thank yous to Sara Goodkind and Kathy Newman!), and made possible by contributions from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Education Voters PA, the PA Budget and Policy Center, and an anonymous donor. The PA State Education Association (PSEA) kindly welcomed us with snacks and a bathroom break, before we ran across the street to the Capitol Building.

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We started the day with a press conference, organized by Better Choices for Pennsylvania, a coalition of over 60 organizations allied for a responsible budget. The message was clear: “no more cuts, we have to grow the pie” with other revenue sources so there is enough for all. To drive home the point, the coalition delivered little pies to each legislator’s office. I helped with some of those deliveries, including one to Jake Wheatley, while the rest of our group got busy meeting with other Representatives and Senators on our list.

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One thing we learned from our trip is that the Capitol is literally swarming with professional lobbyists – some of whom had the audacity to make fun of our group during the press conference – which reinforced for us just how important it is to have “ordinary people” like us take the time to show up and talk with legislators. We are the actual constituents they are there to represent, but legislators generally only hear from those paid to talk to them.

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We split into groups and managed to squeeze in visits to the offices of Jay Costa, Wayne Fontana, Donal White, Dom Costa, Ed Gainey, Mike Turzai, Paul Costa, Dan Frankel, and Daniel Deasy. Some legislators were still in session and we met with their staff, but in every case, we spoke about the same thing: the real impact of budget cuts on our children and schools and the need for adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public schools.

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Rep. Ed Gainey, whose children attend Pittsburgh Fulton and were there visiting with him for the day, spoke at length about his support for public education.

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Here’s a group meeting with Dan Deasy. The students were particularly eloquent! Two of us also took some time during the afternoon to meet with gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf’s policy director about his education platform. We are eager to get Mr. Wolf back to Pittsburgh to talk to families so we can understand his vision for public education.

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Our last stop was the Governor’s office, where we delivered a petition with over 12,000 signatures calling for fair funding for our schools! Then it was time to get back on the bus, debrief each other on our visits, eat more snacks, and talk to new friends. Everyone agreed it was a very worthwhile day and that grassroots activism really does make a difference. Before we knew it, we were back in the ‘burgh and ready to start planning our next event together.

Education Debate

Who is running for governor of Pennsylvania? What will the candidates do to help our schools? How will they support public education as a civil right and a public good?

So far this primary season, Governor Corbett has declined invitations to debate. He does have someone running against him in the Republican primary, but political analysts give his opponent almost no chance of bumping the incumbent from the ticket. I look forward to debates this fall when Gov. Corbett will be asked to publicly defend his record on education. But right now we need to know more about the Democratic candidates vying to take on the governor in the general election.

That’s why the PA Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) and Yinzercation decided to co-host a Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate education debate. This will be the only debate in Pennsylvania focused exclusively on education issues! And all of the major candidates have committed to coming: Rob McCord, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz, Jack Wagner, and Tom Wolf.

Please mark your calendars now and plan to be a part of this event:
Tuesday, April 8th  at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12
515 N. Highland Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15206
(Bus Service: 89 and 71B. Free parking at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.)

Doors open at 6PM with student performances. The debate begins 7PM, with doors closing promptly at 6:55PM for the live telecast, which will be moderated by WPXI’s Lisa Sylvester.

Do you have a question for the candidates? This is your chance to ask the people who want to govern our state where they stand on education issues! Email your question to education@piin.org by April 1st. Or you can tweet it ahead of time to #PGHed or bring it with you to write on the question cards we will have available during the seating hour.

This is truly a community event with a wide range of co-sponsors, including: the Black Political Empowerment Project; the Greater Park Place Neighborhood Association; the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee; the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition; and the YMCA Youth and Government Club at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12.

For more information, updates, and to RSVP, please see our Facebook event page. And while you are there, please invite your friends – this is an entirely grassroots event with no budget and we are counting on you to help us spread the word. Can you volunteer on April 8th? We need lots of hands to make the evening a success – please let me know. This is participatory democracy in action!

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