by Paula M. Riley

The sign that Nicholas Gabriel-Yingling carried at the Rally for Public Education on Sunday said it all: “All Day Kindergarten 4 Me.”

Children joined a crowd of about 200 on Sunday to protest state budget cuts to pubic schools, including the elimination of all-day Kindergarten. (Photo by Paula M. Riley)

The 5-year -old Chestnut Hill resident is slated to enter kindergarten at the J.S. Jenks Elementary School in September, but if Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget passes, Nicholas will only be able to attend for half a day.

Nicholas was joined by more than 200 parents, students, and teachers at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy where citizens from across Northwest Philadelphia came with signs, angst and energy to protest the proposed $600 million in budget cuts that will have a severe impact on Philadelphia schools.

“We want Harrisburg to know that we want appropriate and equitable funding,” said Haviva Goldman of Chestnut Hill, mother of first-grade Jenks student Dennis Lattanzi. “We want them to think about what they are cutting and to fund programs that work.”

Referring to data on the effectiveness of early education, she said she believed that full-day kindergarten is one of the programs at that work. Goldman and Vanessa Yingling are both active in the Jenks Home and School Association and have been keeping fellow Jenks parents informed.

“We used our parents’ listserv to provide updates on budget advocacy,” Yingling explained. She said the updates included talking points, Web links and contact information for state representatives.

Jenks’ parents weren’t the only ones in attendance. Children, teachers and parents from C.W. Henry, Henry H. Houston, Shawmont and Cook-Wissahickon schools carried signs and joined in the protest.

Kim Newman, principal of Houston, is hopeful that Sunday’s protest will get the legislators’ attention. “Harrisburg will see how much Philadelphia parents love their children, their schools and their community,” Newman said. “We will do what it takes.”

The Houston Bright Futures preschool program for children ages 3-5 at Houston is on the chopping block as well. Of the 60 Bright Futures centers across Philadelphia, only 16 are expected to remain open. Marty and Christine Morrison of Roxborough are crushed. Their 3-year-old son attends Bright Futures at Shawmont School.

“We are stuck in the middle,” Christine said. “We have no alternative, as we cannot afford full-time daycare. This is an invaluable program that we can’t do without.”

Additional budget cuts will result in reduction of transportation services, after-school programs, summer school, art, music, athletics and advanced placement programs, as well as the elimination of 3,820 jobs, including teachers, counselors, aides and nurses.

By the time the formal addresses were made at the rally, the crowd was ready to hold its signs high.

Speakers included Dr. Leroy Nunnery, deputy superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, who is concerned about the “disproportionate impact” the budget cuts have on the Philadelphia School District.

Michael Masch, chief financial officer for the district, raved about the district’s test scores that have been steadily increasing in the past eight years.

“More kids are succeeding in public schools in Philadelphia than they have in decades,” he said. “We don’t want to stop that – we want to improve it, we want to accelerate the progress.”

Masch joined Nunnery in telling those in attendance that their elected officials need to hear from them. “This is not somebody’s else’s problem,” Nunnery declared. “If you are not vocal, and if you think your world is OK here in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy, well, if we lose, then shame on all of us.”

Nunnery singled out one of the major impacts of these cuts.

“Good public schools are what makes neighborhoods work,” he said. “If we lose our public schools, we lose the neighborhood. That’s what we are fighting for.”

Organizer Kevin Peter reminded all those in attendance to come to the citywide rally at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, at Dilworth Plaza in Center City.