Urgent Times (for Education in PA)

Urgent Times (for Education in PA)

School is out in 10 days for students and teachers in the School District of Philadelphia.

It’s 18 days until the Pennsylvania state legislators and governor are suppose to pass the Commonwealth’s budget for 2015-16. Many of them, though, are resigned to a long summer of budget negotiations.

We know that in just over 3 months school is suppose to be back in session, but there are no guarantees that the necessary funds will be there for the School District of Philadelphia to open its doors able to provide its students the educational environment they deserve.

We remember last summer and schools slated to close, teachers, nurses, guidance counselors being laid off, negotiating for a cigarette tax. It could all happen again.

The legislators have proposed no increase to the public schools of Pennsylvania after a number of years of decreased funding under the last Governor.

The new Governor has proposed increasing the funding by $400 million. That sounds like a lot but its “not nearly enough for districts statewide to restore reasonable class sizes, art, music, nurses, libraries, and other essentials for our children that many districts have cut back on or cut completely,” according to POWER (Philadelphia Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild).

These are urgent times.

Here at Old First, we have been trying to schedule a meeting with State Representative, now State Senator, John Sabatina, to discuss the need for a full, fair funding formula for Pennsylvania’s public school districts and an increase in the state’s budget for the schools. This is part of a larger POWER effort where congregations are tying to meet with 32 state legislators on the matter.

We have called and emailed Senator Sabatina’s office multiple times since April. We’ve heard from his Chief of Staff that the Senator does his own scheduling, and we’ll need to wait for him to respond about a date. We have not heard from him.

We hand delivered a letter signed by our Old First POWER committee to his office in Northeast Philadelphia. No response.

We feel the days, weeks and months ticking away. We feel the urgency of the situation.

We’ve asked again this week for a time to visit. Next week someone from of our group will go each day to his office asking for a time to meet.

By the time we go to Harrisburg the end of June, if we haven’t met with him, we will show up at his office there, during the United Church of Christ day on June 22nd, where UCC folk will be advocating on behalf of our schools. Many more of us will be headed to Harrisburg two days earlier, gathering June 20th to consecrate the advocacy days ahead. (See here for more details on how you can join the bus to Harrisburg on June 20th.)

For the next 3 Sundays (June 7,14 and 21), we’ll have a letter writing station set up after worship for you to send a letter to your state representative about the budget, if you’d like to amplify the message.

Want to know more? Talk about the approach? Share your concerns or ideas? Feel free to talk with us. We appreciate hearing people’s feedback.

— Mimi Copp Johnson for the Old First POWER organizing committee
Michael Caine, Hannah Cartwright, Clark Dingman, Barbara Gurley, Michael Johnson, Yajeh Ndimbie, Julie Steiner, Mike Wass, Beth Walker