Budget negotiators have reconvened in offices overlooking the Capitol rotunda a few hours after educators and labor leaders filled that space to protest the governor's proposals for school funding.
The crowd booed as teachers from the Ponocos and York described cuts in programming and staff in their schools. Several people wore pink t-shirts that read: “Gov. Corbett gave me a pink slip.”
“After 11 years teaching, my goal of creating a positive future for students has been cut short by a governorship that has made a policy of defunding public education,” said Ira Schneider, who said he was furloughed from his job teaching fourth grade in the York city schools. “Sadly, I’m not the only teacher who’s standing here without a job today.”
Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said the state has more money that Gov. Tom Corbett could have proposed spending on public education.
“The fact is he didn’t have to do this,” Kortz said. "He wanted to do this."
Opponents of the governor’s proposal say it would cut funding for public schools by discontinuing a $100 million program that districts use to help pay for full-day kindergarten. Since the current funding for that program was technically part of the previous year's budget, the administration argues it isn't proposing a cut. The Senate recommended appropriating $50 million for the program, and the House voted to appropriate $100 million, though some of that money would come from other education spending.
Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the governor has proposed increasing state funding for education from $9.05 billion this year to $9.39 billion next year, after years in which the state appropriation dropped because of an influx of federal stimulus money.
"To say the governor has cut funding to education is an inaccurate statement," he said. "What I would say is the federal government's stimulus money ran out. That's where the loss of money into education has come from."
"Their frustration is misdirected at the governor," he said.
After the rally, Gerald Pegg, a science teacher from Laurel Highlands High School, said he and colleagues met at 6 a.m. to ride a bus to Harrisburg. He said reductions in funding have jeopardized programs in his school that provide a safety net for disadvantaged kids and allow high-performing ones to take college-level courses.
"We all support our students, and these cuts are definitely hurting the programs that are best suited to help our students," he said.