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2012 VP candidate Cheri Honkala takes leading role in movement against Philly school budget cuts

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Cheri Honkala was the Green Party’s 2012 Vice Presidential candidate and is the national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.  For years, she has been a part of the struggle to save Philadelphia’s public schools from budget cuts, privatization, staff cuts, and other assaults.  Her deep involvement in these efforts started when her son’s elementary school was slated for the cutting block, one of dozens of such schools in Philadelphia.

In the past month, Honkala has taken on a more public role, just as organizing and action against ongoing cuts has escalated and become more visible.  The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign issued a statement summarizing their activity on the issue in October, and why it is so important:

We live in a world where children are being denied the right to proper education. School funds are constantly being cut and now the School Reform Commission (SRC) in Philadelphia decided they are going to try and fix the school system by cutting health care benefits for teachers! What about all of the funds going towards the prison system and oil companies? This past month Shell Oil was provided a $1.7 billion tax break while $0 was allocated for textbooks. Teachers are being told it is their time to make sacrifices but they have been sacrificing all along with limited resources, over crowded classrooms and fulfilling extra roles such as counselor and nurse due to lack of funding for full time staff.On October 9th,  Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPHERC) stood with parents, students, and teachers to demand that Governor Corbett explain himself and provide full funding for our schools. They shut down the elevators, blocked our access to the Governor and kicked out the media. They even went as far as to arrest Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator of PPEHRC and parent of a student at Julia R. Masterman School who attempted to deliver a citizens arrest against the governor for crimes against education and our children. 
On October 15th, The Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools organized a press conference in front of the headquarters of the School district of Philadelphia in response to the SRC’s decision. During this press conference, Cheri Honkala’s message was clear: “don’t mess with our babies’ education!”

The following day, October 16th, more than 1,000 teachers, parents, students, and community supporters gathered in front of the headquarters of the School district of Philadelphia to continue to protest against the SRC’s decision. During the protest, Cheri Honkala testified in front of the SRC to address the cancelation of teacher’s contracts along with 59 other speakers. 

They continue to cut back but we will continue to fight back! Our schools will be saved no matter how long we have to fight against this broken system! We are very proud of the students, teachers, parents, and community members that continue to protest alongside PPEHRC during these important demonstrations. There is no change without the people uniting together and demanding for it! The people united will never be divided and we will win!

Honkala’s arrest was covered by the Philadelphia City Paper (and a second time, after she got out of jail), Philly Metro, and a local education blog, among others.  Honkala also wrote about it on her new blog, including a pledge for people to support the movement.  Below is a video of Honkala speaking at the above-mentioned rally:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bs5baAinHw

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Schools Failing, Money Needed

California’s public education system is dysfunctional and it is the children and the future generation that have paid the costs. In addressing both the short term issues and the long term, true solutions need to be found. It is not a solution that is found in demonstrations. Teachers’ unions have been unable to demonstrate a significant role in addressing the real needs of teachers. The result has been high teacher turnover, a decrease in the number of new teachers and high student drop-out rates.

Alternatives, whether vouchers or charter schools are patch work remedies that have no significant impact on the vast majority of students in the public school system. Increasingly, public school systems are contracting out to private education contractors. In the interest of full-disclosure, it should be said that I periodically work for such a company. It is worthwhile to mention that the stimulus proposal includes increasing funding to Special Education. This is worth supporting.

At issue in California are the glaring inadequacies of state funding to education. (see the article ) The existing state funding has frozen in place a system that cannot address the needs of limited English language students, special education and districts with low tax bases. It has replaced school buildings with mobile homes. It has replaced textbooks with Xerox copies. It has undermined student focus on learning and increasingly undermined the ability of teachers to focus on teaching.

This presents the budget issue and the inability to raise taxes on the front burner in the state of California. It presents Prop 13 as the first hurdle to be leaped in addressing the stalemate that is dragging the state down. It presents changing the vote required for the budget to be passed. There are no solutions for the “corporations” to pay or no way around the recognition that in difficult times we all pay the costs for our failures to invest in education during good times.

Greens running in local elections and for school boards need to be up front on these issues and begin to form a new consensus that sees the priority in investing in our children’s future. Greens working within teachers’ unions need to build a caucus that can increase the visibility of the teacher in the funding process.

“Children are the future of this country, special needs or not, everyone can have a chance to reach success if they are just given the chance to do so. Even though the schools were reimbursed for their funds spent out of pocket, the settlement figure is only slightly more than half the $1.1 billion dollars the CSBA originally claimed the schools were owed (http://www.specialednews.com/states/statesnews/CAfunds111500.html). These states are getting off easy, more needs to be done to ensure each special needs child has a chance for a proper education, no matter what school district or state they are in.” http://sitemaker.umich.edu/delicata.356/funding_for_special_needs_education