***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
***Faith Leaders fasting and praying at Pennsylvania’s State Capitol for public school funding called the budget passed today by the state’s House of Representatives “unjust and immoral”***
As the budget was being debated, members of Unitarian Universalist churches held a vigil and later entered the chambers singing in protest as part of the “Moral Takeover” of Pennsylvania’s State Capitol over school funding, which started last Saturday. After the budget passed, public school parents, clergy and lay leaders representing the Moral Takeover urged people of faith and conscience from across the state to continue to join them in their fast for fully and fairly funded public schools.
Harrisburg, PA — Representatives of the “Moral Takeover” at Pennsylvania’s State Capitol, the faith-led, statewide movement for full and fair public education funding, responded today to the budget passed by the House Representatives saying that it is unjust and immoral with grossly inadequate funding for public schools.
As the budget was being debated on the floor, Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay leaders from across the state held a vigil in the Capitol Rotunda with parents and students from Berks County, Cumberland County, Susquehanna Country, Philadelphia, Montgomery County and others, and later entered the House chambers singing in protest. Those attending joined the Moral Takeover fast, which began in March but was moved directly to the Capitol steps last Saturday beckoning groups from different religious groups to Harrisburg throughout the week in a push for school funding.
Bruce Pollack Johnson, a public school parent in Philadelphia and a member of Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration, said, “My 14-year old goes to a magnet school that is considered a premier school in Philadelphia, but they don’t have enough toilet paper in the bathrooms. If that’s what’s true in the premier schools, something is very wrong.
Kavita Goyal, a parent in Colonial School District in Plymouth Meeting, attended the vigil with her two children. After hearing of the House’s budget passage, she said, “We are hearing legislators say ‘you can’t spend what you don’t have.’ So how can we afford to spend $40,000 per inmate with costs rising every year and not spend on schools? If we made different choices, our commonwealth could provide the best education in the country instead of the most unequal education in the country.”
Goyal’s 8-year old daughter Karishma Levy, a student at Ridge Park Elementary School, said, “My school has great nurses, art, music and gym. Why shouldn’t all schools have that?”
POWER, the lead organizer of the Moral Takeover movement, has been advocating for a full and fair funding formula since 2013. POWER released a statement earlier this week which stresses that school districts across the state will not be fairly funded until they are fully funded— unless there are substantially more resources put towards education, the fair formula recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission will not address current inequities. Pennsylvania currently has the most unequal funding for public education in the country. The budget passed by the House today has a net increase of just $8 million for public schools, in comparison to the $400 million increase recommended by Governor Tom Wolf.
Sheila Armstrong, who is participating in the 10 day fast on the Capitol steps with her family, said, “Today we heard House representatives say that their budget is responsible. But when I spend my money, I always take care of my children first. That is not what the House’s budget does, and it is wrong.”
Upon the passing of the House budget today, POWER urged faith communities from across the state to continue to come to Harrisburg to put pressure on lawmakers to pass a moral budget that fully funds public schools.
Pastor Yvette Davis, the pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, which is hosting people as they stay the night in Harrisburg after fasting on the Capitol steps from sun-up to sun-down, said, “Faith communities will keep praying and fasting for a moral budget. I am hopeful that it will come.”
Bishop Dwayne Royster, the Executive Director of POWER, said, “There is a myth in Harrisburg that there is ‘not enough’ for all of Pennsylvania’s children. There is a myth that poor, black and brown districts like Philadelphia are sucking up all the resources. We see right through these myths. We know politicians are using racially coded politics to divide us against ourselves, and that corporations are getting fat while schools in all parts of the state are starving. We must stand strong for fair and adequate funding for every child. We urge our brothers and sisters from far and wide to join our movement — people of faith and people of conscience, people who are rich and people who are poor, people from the cities, people from the suburbs, people from the country, people of all colors: join us in Harrisburg in our call for a budget that values our families and provides a 21st century education for every single one of Pennsylvania’s kids.”
About POWER: POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) represents congregations from across the Philadelphia region, bringing people together across the lines of race, faith, income level and neighborhood — lines that have historically kept our city and state divided. POWER is committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now and seeks to exercise power in the public arena by strengthening and mobilizing our networks, so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city. POWER is nonpartisan and is not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office. Learn more at www.powerphiladelphia.org.