On January 6, legislators were sworn into office in Harrisburg. At the same time dozens of students, teachers, parents and community activists braved the chilling weather in order to let those incoming legislators know that we expect some changes in 2015. One Pittsburgh was joined by Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), SEIU 32BJ, and the Black Student Union at CAPA High School, as we released our resolutions for the coming year.
Those resolutions are:
–Invest in education by restoring the $1 billion cut by Gov. Tom Corbett We are committed to ensuring that every child in Pennsylvania has access to a great public school. We will have to restore Corbett’s cuts from education funding and raise even more money to improve Pennsylvania’s future. That’s why One Pittsburgh helped start Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh and joined the national Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS). It’s time to put PA’s future first and start investing in our schools again.
-Increase access to healthcare with real Medicaid Expansion It’s time to use the federal dollars set aside for PA to expand Medicaid and provide 500,000 Pennsylvanians with affordable healthcare. It’s the right thing to do and will make PA healthier and wealthier in the long run.
–Raise the minimum wage to $15. Every single state surrounding PA has raised their minimum wage, leaving working Pennsylvanians behind. Right now, $7.25 and full time adds up to about $15,000 a year. For an adult with only one child, that means they still qualify for government subsidies like food stamps and housing. People who work full time should be able to support themselves without having to rely on government programs. It’s time to raise the wage in PA.
-Close the Delaware Loophole The Delaware Loophole, which allows corporations to open a POBox and register their company in Delaware, avoiding PA income taxes, cost the commonwealth hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. The problem is so bad that 74% of corporations in PA pay zero state income taxes.
-Make Marcellus Shale drillers pay their fair share. Pennsylvania is one of the only states that does not charge an extraction tax for natural gas. Oil companies are making more money than ever, they could certainly afford to pay their fair share. Taxing Shale Gas at the same rate as our neighbors in Ohio, goes a long way to fixing our state budget.
Below is a speech, which tells the story of school funding cuts. Alexis Payne, a member of the Black Student Union, and a senior, at CAPA wrote and delivered these remarks. We were so moved by it we thought we would share.
If you are similarly moved and want to send a note to Alexis just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make sure that she gets it.
Good afternoon. My name is Alexis Payne and I am a 12th grade student at Pittsburgh CAPA. My school is right across the street from you. It is different from a lot of schools in this district. We have one of the highest graduation rates and the environment at my school is something that is rarely found in other places; it is generally positive and the students in my classes generally really want to learn. We are not at all superior students. We come from the same neighborhoods as the kids at our home schools. The only difference between our school and others is that we have art.
Historically and through my own observations, I have learned that art has the capacity to make people see the world in a different way. It produces an unprecedented amount of empathy for the struggles of others and it makes people see things outside of themselves and gain a much wider scope of the world.
At other schools however, arts programs are being cut completely. Students not only lack opportunity to study things like music and dance and creative writing but they also lack the opportunity to study in healthy environments. I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be in a classroom with more than thirty students. Teachers are unable to teach effectively and students fall significantly behind because of the lack of specific attention given to them.
The most ridiculous thing about all of this though is that the schools that are most affected are the schools that need the most help. The schools in minority and lower-income neighborhoods are the ones where education cuts affect the most. The students who need the most attention in order to succeed are forced to be in classes where teachers don’t have the time or the resources to teach. Some of these same students are often given few creative outlets and resulting in a significantly more narrow worldview.
In this way, the issue of budget cuts to education is largely an issue of racial and class equality. While students in wealthier districts with often predominately white populations have opportunities to study art in classes with 15 students, students in districts like this one are placed inside four walls with dozens of other young people with little opportunity to look beyond the realm of their own existence.
In this legislative session, please consider these issues, please remember these students and please consider the effect that your votes have on their lives.