HARRISBURG - Hundreds of educators, laid-off teachers and parents packed the Capitol rotunda Wednesday at a raucous union rally to protest Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts as Pennsylvania's public schools prepare to lay off thousands of employees for a second straight year.
Speaker after speaker aimed their wrath at the Republican governor as they bemoaned continuing furloughs of teachers and support staff, growing class sizes, and the elimination of tutoring, physical education, arts and other programs.
Demonstrators wearing pink T-shirts that said "Gov. Corbett gave me a pink slip" were scattered throughout the crowd.
"Mr. Governor, the question is this: did you lie during your campaign to the voters of Pennsylvania, or did you turn your back on their children?" asked Bryan Sanguinito, a music teacher who is among more than 300 school employees who are losing their jobs in the Reading School District.
Ira Schneider, a fourth-grade teacher who was one of 150 employees furloughed by the York City School District, said the layoffs could flood the job market with veteran teachers, forcing new teachers to leave the state for work, and push experienced educators to leave the field altogether.
"It's time to do what we all know is the right thing to do - put the money back into the education budget and provide our students with (the) well-rounded, thorough education they deserved. Their future and ours depends on it," said Schneider, a teacher for 11 years.
The rally, organized by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, coincided with private budget talks between the governor and leaders of the GOP legislative majority. The discussions are focused in part on how far the school aid cuts Corbett has proposed for the budget year starting July 1 should be rolled back.
State aid for public schools in 2011-12, Corbett's first budget year, shrank by about $860 million, or more than 10 percent. Corbett's $27.1 billion budget plan for next year would hold most school aid relatively flat, but eliminate a $100 million grant program that helps pay for full-day kindergarten.
Some lawmakers worry that the state will be faced with a wave of school districts in Pennsylvania's struggling small cities that are unable to open their doors this year or next.