On Wednesday morning I went to Harrisburg to "Rally on the Rotunda." Teachers from all over Pennsylvania were there - furloughed and not furloughed. We were there for a very important reason - to protest Gov. Tom Corbett's cuts to public education. This is my first photo diary, and I did my best to capture the spirit of the day.
I woke up early. 5:15 early. This is what I saw from my back deck - a beautiful start to the day.
The lobby started out at PSEA (my union - Pennsylvania State Educators Association) headquarters, where we were briefed on talking points and what to do when we got inside the Capitol. There were three main issues of the day:
1. House Bill 1307 - Financially Distressed Schools. This basically says that school districts in financial distress would be taken over by "political appointees." There would be no money given to these schools - they'd just be taken over.
2. State Budget 2012-2012 - the 2011-2012 budget cut $860 million from PA public schools, and 2012-2013 proposed budget cuts another $100 million. The bright side is that this budget has been rejected by many state legislators. The Accountability Block Grant program funds full-day kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, and tutoring. Many of PA's legislators support restoring this grant.
3. Teacher Evaluation - Gov. Corbett wants to implement an evaluation system that would tie most of a teacher's evaluation into standardized test scores. There is currently a pilot program in PA to test new evaluation systems, but Corbett wants to push through this bill (House Bill 1980) before the pilot program is completed.
(All above information is from the Lobby Day handouts we got at the orientation.)
During the orientation, we got to meet other educators and share our stories. During this time, I had this revelation about why it's so important to go to events like this. It's much easier for me to be part of a group with this stuff than go at it alone. I hate making phone calls, but I'll stand in a group and support the cause.
Some pictures from the orientation session.
The two ladies in the above picture are from a school district up the road from me. Their district had to close three schools, and they laid off 280 employees - 142 professional staff.
It was an absolutely beautiful day on Wednesday!
After getting through security, I saw a TON of people in the rotunda. There were news cameras everywhere! Since I was "lucky" enough to have on a pink shirt, I was put front and center on the rotunda steps. If you caught any of the coverage on the news, you most likely saw me - I was right behind the podium, standing in the middle. This gave me a great perspective to see the crowd.
We heard PSEA president Mike Crossey speak along with other union representatives, educators, and legislators.
The speakers were very inspirational. One of the speakers was the president of Reading School District's teachers' union. Reading is the poorest city in the nation, and their budget shortfall this year was $40 million. A furloughed teacher (he was an 11-year veteran) from York City school district was another speaker. York City was very hard hit, and he talked about the large amount of money the district had to pay out to charter schools.
I don't write particularly well, nor do I really enjoy it, so I'll just let some pictures do the writing for me.
The next two photos really kind of tell a story for me. For as fired up as we were, there was still the undercurrent of sadness in the day.
These ladies were right behind me on the steps - they led many of the chants; "One Term Tom," "Enough is Enough," "Save Our Schools..."
I love the next sign I saw. I was happy to hear some of the speakers talk about the fracking industry and the Delaware Loophole.
Toward the end of the day, I met some teachers from Upper Darby School District. Art, music and phys ed programs were cut. Like as in GONE cut. Some of the education supporters in their district made a wonderful video, "Save Upper Darby Arts", and I encourage you to watch it here.
It is a beautiful, touching video that really speaks volumes about the state of public education. If you are not familiar with Upper Darby, they have a fantastic arts program. Their indoor drumline was ranked fourth in the nation. Jim Croce and Tina Fey are alumni of the school.
Below the YouTube video, there is a petition and I'd love to have you sign it. One of the girls speaking for Upper Darby was the creator of the pink shirts you saw in the above photos. The back of the shirt read "furloughed educator."
I have to be honest, I wasn't really sure I wanted to go to this event. I made all kinds of excuses - the drive was too far, I needed to look for jobs, blah blah blah... but if I've learned anything from reading diaries around here, it's that you have to fight for what you believe in, and there is power in numbers.