Hundreds of students, professors, coaches and alumni, including more than 70 from Shippensburg University, gathered in Harrisburg Wednesday morning to protest Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget.
The Rally for Education was organized by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), as a way for students, faculty and alumni to express their opposition toward Corbett’s proposed budget.
Protesters marched on to the steps of the state Capitol building, holding signs and shouting chants. Speakers at the rally included state Sen. Vincent Hughes, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, as well as students and professors from universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
Debra Cornelius, professor of sociology at SU, warmed students up on the bus ride from Shippensburg to Harrisburg with words of advice and practice chants.
“Seventy-seven students signed up. That means every student here represents 100 Shippensburg students. I want the Ship students to see how many people are affected by this. These students are speaking for the future,” Cornelius said. “Once people understand the power of a collective voice they use it.”
APSCUF chose “Back to the Future” as the theme for the rally, saying that the proposed budget cuts would push Pennsylvania public education back to the way it was more than 20 years.
“We value education on all levels, and we’re going to make it clear that there is nothing more important than to support all levels of public education,” state Sen. Andy Dinninam said.
Corbett unveiled his proposed budget in February which included a 20-percent cut, or $82.5 million, to money for all 14 of the state-owned universities, including Shippensburg.
The budget also proposed a 5-percent cut to Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), which funds financial aid packages for the state. Lawmakers have until the end of June to approve or reject Corbett’s proposed budget.
“Haven’t we sacrificed enough? Haven’t we lost enough faculty, staff, majors and entire departments? Sacrifice does not entail gutting public education,” Drew Blake, a student at Lock Haven University said.
“Stop the cuts! That’s the message we have to send,” Hughes said. “You have to make sure they remember that you were here and that you matter just as much as the Marcellus Shale guys matter.”
Although he is just a freshman, Malik Williams, from Cheyney University is already concerned that “graduating on time may be shadowed by raised tuition.”
He is not alone with this fear. SU senior Stephanie Diaz expressed similar concerns. Diaz, who came to Shippensburg after attending a private college is scheduled to graduate next year with a degree in Social Work.
“If these budget cuts happen, I might not be able to go back,” Diaz said.
SU junior Nicole Williams also spoke at the rally. “I am extremely scared about my senior year. Last year I worked four jobs so that I could pay to go to school. I don’t have time to work six,” Williams said.
A little bit of rain interrupted the protest briefly. However, after moving all electrical equipment inside, speakers carried on using a megaphone.
The rally came to an end with West Chester University senior, Alexander Hibbs leading the crowd in a protest song titled “Hey Mr. Corbett.”
After two hours of speakers, chants and a little bit of rain, students marched off the steps of the Capitol building, leaving Corbett with a final message: “We’re not going away!”