Hunger strike against school cuts begins on Broad Street

tentschoolWhen Mike Mullins dropped his kids off at school this morning, they asked him if he was going to be sleeping outside tonight.

“I said I wasn’t sure,” he says.

Then they asked him if he was going to be hungry. He said yes. But not to worry—he’s got a ton of support.

Mullins is part of a group of protesters who began a hunger strike this morning to protest cuts to the Philadelphia school district. He and several others are camped outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s Philadelphia office on Broad Street. Specifically, they’re peeved about the more than 1,200 student safety staff being let go from the district. The strike was partially put together with Unite Here! Local 634, the union who represents the district’s noontime aides who serve food and provide security.

“Essentially, that entire position has been wiped out,” says Mullins, “but we feel like it’s a larger crisis that’s affecting public education.”

fastingbookMullins, who is a leader of the union which represents stadium workers, says he’s always been conscious of the problem with the Philadelphia School District’s funding resources.

The strike consists of no food and no juice, he says, and he’s not really sure how long it will last. “There’s a City Council vote on Thursday and the legislative session ends June 30th,” he says—so the timeline isn’t exactly Guantanimo Bay detainee-ish.

Part of the problem facing the school district, though, is that much of the eventual, not-guaranteed money they’re hoping for has to be OK’d by people who share nothing with Philadelphia except state borders. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives only put $1.5 million of the requested $120 million in their budget for Philadelphia school district, and the state Senate, which, given, is not as radical as the House, is working on its budget now.

Another one of the strikers out on Broad Street today is Earlene Bly, the mother of a 9th grader in the Philadelphia school district. Bly says she attended the gigantic school district protest on May 17th, in which thousands of students left school to call for more funding by the state and city. After that, she says, “it felt like they might listen to us—but no, they didn’t.”

Erlene Bly

Earlene Bly

Which is part of the reason, she says, she decided to put her action where her rhetoric is. “I’m putting my well-being on the line for something I believe in,” she says, “and if that doesn’t grab their attention, I don’t know what will.”

Bly got more heavily involved in the education issues in Philadelphia when the SRC first announced they’d be closing several schools. “Then my daughter came home and told me about the programs they’re cutting, and I’ve always told my daughter about the change you can make if you stand up and fight for what you believe in. Nothing’s going to change if you don’t try to change it,” she says.

Regarding the state senators who’ll be deciding the fate of the district workers and students over the next couple weeks, Bly noted: “I would encourage anybody [in the Legislature] to come to Philadelphia and talk to some of us, get to know some of these people and talk to these children; see what they want.”

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

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