More schools, more options in those schools and more state funding were all part of a rally Thursday morning in Oakland.
Parents, students, teachers, community organizations and labor unions gathered for a press conference held outside the Pittsburgh Board of Education Building on Bellefield Avenue to show their support for public education and to decry the cuts that have been seen over the last four years.
“The status quo is not working, and these poor educational policies are destabilizing our communities,” said Pam Harbin, co-chair of the Pittsburgh local taskforce on the Right to Education and resident of the Point Breeze neighborhood.
The press conference was hosted by Great Public Schools of Pittsburgh (GPS Pittsburgh), a member of the PA Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, and was in solidarity with a larger national day of action “to call for more sustainable community schools.”
15 other cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, also saw events related to the national day of action.
The supporters who came out denounced what they say is the lack of funding to public schools, which have led to a rise in privately-operated charter schools – schools that are not as heavily regulated as their public school counterparts. School closures in the city and high-stakes standardized tests were also on the lists of gripes.
Harbin stressed the need for not only additional funding but also a better funding strategy.
“The state funding problem – we’ve been fighting that for a long time. We’re hoping with this new governor we won’t have to be fighting that as much. But there is not a funding formula right now. There needs to be a fair funding formula, and there needs to be adequate funding,” Harbin said.
“Parents and educators want great neighborhood public schools that enable all our children to thrive,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “That’s a far better strategy than whittling each teacher and student down to a data point and shutting down schools by the dozen.”
Weingarten also stressed the need for funding to go toward extracurricular activities and job training programs.
“That’s what our agenda to reclaim that promise of public education is all about – solutions that work for kids, including community schools and broad, strong curriculum options like career and technical education, art and music.
“In places that have embraced this model, test scores, graduation rates and morale are all on the rise,” Weingarten said. “Neighborhoods are growing more stable, and public schools are right where they should be – at the center of the communities.”
GPS Pittsburgh has said that sustainable community schools “recognize the effects that poverty can have on students” and addresses “those consequences head on with a robust array of wraparound services” – meaning health services, breakfast programs and afterschool care – “and challenging curriculum.”
However, it says to establish sustainable community schools, more funding and better spending models are needed.
The recent general election outcomes have made public school funding more of pressing issue, GPS Pittsburgh said. Referring to new state House and Senate Republicans as “opponents of strong public education,” time appears to be of the essence to push Governor-elect Tom Wolf to make good on his promise to further fund public education.
“This is a basic human and civil right for every child to have a school that they can go to,” Harbin stressed. She added that those schools should be “good schools.”