HARRISBURG, Penn. – Several thousand people from throughout Pennsylvania rallied on the Capitol steps for “education justice” for all students in the state on June 26. Speakers called for adequate, equitable funding for all students. The purpose of the rally, organized by Good Schools Pennsylvania, was to pressure the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass Gov. Ed Rendell’s (D) education budget before it recesses for the summer.

If passed, the budget would add $1.3 billion of new money over three years to pay for reduced class size in grades K-3, pre-kindergarten, full day kindergarten, tutoring, math and reading coaches, and teacher training in every school district.

To pay for this, Rendell has proposed bills to put slot machines in all Pennsylvania race tracks, raise the state income tax for those who earn over $54,000 yearly and reduce the property tax in all school districts. Some bills have passed but others have not.

During his election campaign, Rendell promised to improve all the schools in Pennsylvania and also reduce property taxes on which school districts depend for most of their funding. Many Republicans voted for Rendell because of this.

Sonia Isrard, a student representative from the Philadelphia Student Union, called on the legislators to be responsible and set an example. “Our lives depend on you,” said Isrard. She then told how she and 17 Philadelphia students walked 110 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg in the cold rain and the hot sun, stopping in towns along the way, talking to people about supporting good schools for all students in the state.

Dr. Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity at Pennsylvania State University, led the crowd in singing, “All we are asking, is give us a chance.” Bill George, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said, “It’s real hot out here today and it’s going to be real hot in there next week,” pointing to the Capitol. “Do something for working families.” “What do we want?” “Education Justice!” shouted the crowd. “When do we want it?” asked George. “Now!” they replied.

Educators, parents and administrators spoke about the needs of their schools and their children. A speaker for the business community, Mike Krajovic, said, “The children are our future. Public schools promote democracy because they bring children together of many races, classes, religions and cultures.” The rally ended with words from Gov. Rendell and Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, a former schoolteacher. Rendell said some legislators say his education budget is too expensive. “If we don’t care about our kids, what do we care about?” he asked.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest gaps in the nation in resources between wealthy and poor school districts. The wealthiest school district spends $200,000 more per classroom than the poorest school district.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net