Capitol rally draws school employees, parents and students

MEA members from across the state attended a rally Wednesday in Lansing organized by Save Michigan’s Public Schools.

The chant of “kids come first” rolled across the Capitol lawn in Lansing on Wednesday as school employees, parents, students and policymakers converged for the “Save Michigan’s Public Schools” rally.

State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, got the chant started by reminding the audience of the $1.8-billion tax break that corporate special interest received from Gov. Rick Snyder, which were paid for by $1 billion in cuts to schools.

“That’s a fund to aid our schools,” she said of the School Aid Fund. “Not to backfill the general fund for a corporate tax break.”

Whitmer went on to tell the crowd, “Students, parents and teachers like you feel the pain of what they’ve done to you.”

Rod Rock, superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools, understands the pain. His school district just had to let go of 22 teachers. During his turn at the microphone, Rock talked about the dedication of the school staff to give it their all every day.

“These are people,” Rock said. “We forget they have needs, they have families, they have kids.”

The rally came as lawmakers were in session debating legislation to dissolve the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts.

State Rep. Stacy Erwin-Oakes, D-Saginaw, whose district includes Buena Vista, said educators and parents need to make their voices heard when legislation that harms students is being pushed through. She also said it was wrong of the state to leave the students at Buena Vista without any schooling for nearly three weeks.

While the speakers at the rally laid out the struggles facing public schools, including for-profit charter schools and the Education Achievement Authority, they also offered suggestions.

Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, education chair for the National Congress of Black Women and a teacher in Detroit Public Schools, urged her colleagues to run for office and change government from the inside.

Progress Michigan’s “Pepe Le Voucher” mascot, which brought attention to Snyder for his “skunk works” education reform group, made an appearance at the rally, along with a paper machete mascot look-alike of Snyder.

Joining them was a pig mascot, reflecting a comment House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, made during the House debate over the school dissolution bill, in which she referred to school employees as “pigs” and “hogs.”

Several hand-made signs drew attention to Lyons’ remark, including one that said, “You reap what you sow.”

WDEM radio host Tony Trupiano moderated the rally, noting that education is the “most noble profession in the world.”

Leann Bauer, a teacher in Saginaw and president of the Saginaw Education Association, said: “We are here because we support teachers and students. This is a huge fight.”

Mary Ann Dupuis, a retired Saginaw teacher and MEA member, said she came to the rally because: “I’m really tired of the way this state attacks public education. They continuously create laws that undermine public education. The Snyder administration supports business greed and corporate greed at the expense of the people of Michigan.”