Pittsburgh Stands Up for Education and Protests Corbett’s Award at the Opera

Students protest against cuts to their schools

When the Pittsburgh Opera decided to betstow upon Governor Tom Corbett and his wife a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for support of the arts the irony was not lost on thousands of people in Pittsburgh.

The outrage that a Governor who cut $1 billion from the education budget in his first budget, causing many arts and music programs to be eliminated and their teachers laid off, would receive such an award boiled over as hundreds of angry messages appeared on the Pittsburgh Opera’s Facebook page.

Yinzercation, an education blog co-founded by Jessie Ramey, wrote a blog post highlight the absurdity of the award. The post was an unprecedented success, and attracked thousands of visitors.

The story of Corbett’s lifetime achievement gained so much attention that not only did local media outlets take note of the dissent, but it gained national attention as far away as San Francisco and in a site as large as the Huffington Post.

One Pittsburgh’s dedication to strong communities naturally meant that we were ready to stand up with Pittsburgh in defense of the funding necessary for quality public education.

On the evening of May 12th hundreds of parents, students, teachers and community members gathered in the Strip District for a protest, one that was even endorsed by the Post-Gazette, that the budgets that Corbett favor were completely unacceptable.

The festivities started with music played by local bands “Machete” and “Lungs, Face, Feet”. Music students from Westinghouse High School lead the crowd to the front of the Pittsburgh Opera to make ourselves known to Opera supporters entering the event.

In between chants of “Save our Schools” and “Tom Corbett you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side”, several teachers and members of education organizations spoke to the importance of public education.

“I’ve see every day what one billion dollars in education budget cuts look like,” said Steven Singer, teacher at Steel Valley High and co-founder of anti budget cut organization Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt (T.E.A.C.H.) “I see tutoring disappear, class sizes balloon, and services for our most struggling students fall by the wayside.”

Not to be outdone by the Pittsburgh Opera, One Pittsburgh staged an Opera of it’s own. In a retelling of Wagner’s classic Opera “Siegfried” the eponymous hero, representing the 99% slayed the dragon of corporate greed.

Corporate greed represented by a villian known as Corbett – whose campaign was bolstered by $1.6 million from the natural gas industry – has resisted supplementing the budget with an extraction tax on gas drilling. PA is the only state that does not have an extraction tax. Furthermore, the Delaware Loophole remains open, allowing 70% of PA companies to avoid paying state tax by having a mailbox in Delaware.

The tide may be turning on Corbett though. Despite the corporate favoritism that has characterized his office, even state Republicans are starting to consider the public opinion and have introduced a budget that would restore some money to education, and a bill that purports to close the Delware loophole, but may not actually close it.

Public education system is under attack. We need everybody to stand up and make this an issue that Pennsylvania’s politicans can no longer ignore or rationalize.

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