Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym detained in Harrisburg calling for education funding
HARRISBURG – A debate over Pennsylvania’s funding for public schools intensified on Wednesday as authorities arrested Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym and education activists after she staged a protest at the interior of the State Capitol.
Gym and several members of the interfaith group POWER were handcuffed and taken out of the Senate gallery by state Capitol police after an officer declared the gathering illegal. They had been outside the room for about 15 minutes, knocking on doors and demanding to be let in. They were arrested, cited for trespassing and released, said Troy A. Thompson, spokesman for the Capitol Police.
Event organizers and Gym clearly their intentions in advance: they said on Tuesday that they were going to engage in “civil disobedience” and “disrupting business as usual in the General Assembly to ensure that lawmakers on Capitol Hill hear this call for justice.”
“Shame on Pennsylvania, shame on the unfair funding of our school children, shame on this legislature for not standing up for our children,” Gym said as she was handcuffed and taken out of the gallery.
Gym, a progressive Democrat serving her second four-year term on the board, is widely seen as a potential mayoral candidate in 2023. Before Gym was first elected in 2015, she was best known as a school activist public.
Nicolas O’Rourke, pastor and director of the Pennsylvania organization of the Working Families Party, was also handcuffed and kidnapped on Wednesday.
Gym’s appearance in Harrisburg is unlikely to move leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature, but the fight for education funding provides a platform to elevate a politically powerful issue before the budget deadline state next week.
Second-term Democrat Governor Tom Wolf has proposed more than $ 1 billion in new funding for public schools. Wolf wants to allocate all “basic education funding” – the largest source of dollars for public schools in the state – through a formula adopted in 2016 that aims to ensure underserved districts receive adequate funding .
Currently, the formula only applies to new investments.
Pennsylvania Democrats have long resented the GOP’s approach to funding education, saying the legislature has too often overlooked underserved districts like Philadelphia. Republicans say the state can’t spend beyond its means and have pushed for more choice of schools.
The issue helped Wolf win the governorship in 2014, and since then he has repeatedly tangled with GOP lawmakers over school funding.
But this year is a little different, as Wolf abandoned his original plan to pay for school funding by raising taxes.
READ MORE: Wolf sticks to billion dollar plan to close Pa’s education gap, minus his proposed tax hike
Revenue collected for the fiscal year ending June 30 is expected to exceed expectations by about $ 3 billion. Wolf wants to dip into the surplus to increase funding for education, which he says would ensure that no district loses money through the formula.
The state has also received more than $ 7 billion in federal coronavirus relief assistance.
Republicans said the state should save a lot of the money for future deficits. They also want to expand tax credits for private school scholarships.
No matter how the budget unfolds, the issue is taken to court. A Commonwealth Court judge this week ordered a landmark case involving Pennsylvania’s school funding system to be tried on September 9.
An analysis of complainants calculated that public schools across the state need an additional $ 4.6 billion to fill education gaps. Lawyers for the Republican legislative leaders said they would argue there was no link between school spending and student performance.
Wednesday’s protest came after dozens of progressive activists and Democratic lawmakers staged a rally outside Capitol Hill urging Republicans to include federal aid in next year’s budget.
“We are not putting this money in a freezer that we cannot access when there are people who are still suffering from this pandemic,” said State Representative Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia), leader of the democratic minority. on the steps of the Capitol.
The supporters chanted: “Spend the money! Spend the money!
“We have come to exorcise the demon of white supremacy,” Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER, told the crowd.
“Today we come in and denounce the demonic activity that has taken place in this Capitol,” he added. “And we say we won’t have it, and we’ll call heaven until things change!”
A few dozen activists then marched into the Capitol, singing and praying as they made their way to the office of Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jake Corman and the gallery outside the Senate Chamber.
“Let people in! They chanted, knocking on the bedroom door as two officers stood guard. “Let people in! “
As Gym and activists blocked the entrance to the room, a Capitol Police officer declared their gathering illegal and ordered them to disperse. They refused and about a dozen were handcuffed.
The Philadelphia school district is in a better financial position this year than in the past, thanks to $ 1.2 billion in federal assistance. But it is a one-time source of income, and the district still faces a long-term structural deficit.
Student needs have increased during the pandemic, and most in the district of 120,000 students have not set foot in a classroom since March 2020. Officials predict a return to full in-person learning when the news breaks. school year will start on August 31st. .
Editors Kristen A. Graham and Maddie Hanna contributed to this article.