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Students: fund schools, not prisons

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

More than 1,500 elementary, secondary, and college students marched up Broad Street today protesting Governor Corbett’s massive cuts to education in his proposed budget.

The budget calls for cutting basic education by $550 million, or 10 percent, and making other education program cuts to bring the total to over $1.1 billion. It also slashes half of the funding for the sate system of higher education, including Temple and Lincoln.

Of the many student protests in the last month, this was the first that united city public school students with those at the local public universities.

Students also highlighted another line in the budget that grants $650 million toward building three new prisons. They chanted, “Close down the jail house, open up the school house!”

“We’re here to tell Tom Corbett to think about children’s education instead of locking people up,” said 6th grader Jada Lewis, a student in the Bright Lights Initiative that serves elementary schools in North Philadelphia.

“We need more money for schools and less for prisons because if we get more money for schools, there will be less people in prisons,” said her 5th grade friend Krystal Garcia.

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, a youth-led coalition, organized the event. With them marched Youth United for Change; the Philadelphia Student Union; students from the Philadelphia public schools, Temple, Penn State, and Cheyney University; representatives from the Youth Health Empowerment Project; the NAACP; and many others.

The march ended at District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St., where the official speakers for the event were drowned out by the massive crowd and car horns honking in support.

Members of the Taxi Workers Alliance parked their taxis along the march route, decorated with signs saying “fund schools, not prisons.”

One of the drivers, Mohammad Shukur, came from Bangladesh 12 years ago. There he had his MBA, but he could not afford to further his education in the U.S., he said. He now hopes the budget cuts won’t hurt his children’s chances at gaining a good education.

Lilah Olsher graduated from Central High and is now in her first year at Temple. With Corbett’s budget cuts, schools will likely have to increase tuition. “I’m going to have $80,000 of debt,” she said. The cuts are “ridiculous.”

To add salt to the wound, the federal budget also attacked education by slashing Pell Grants, affecting 313,000 students in Pennsylvania.

Today, the city School District announced that it has a $629 million budget gap, largely due to these federal and state cuts. The average individual school budget in the District will be cut by $1 million, likely leading to increased class size and fewer nurses, teachers, and specialty staff.

The crowd that shut down two lanes of Broad Street said the government needs to reprioritize. They shouted: “No education, no life.”

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