by Dmitriy Synkov
Marie Bennett is no stranger to the effects of extreme budget cuts on public schools in her state. As a paraprofessional at Quarry Hill Elementary school for over nine years, she has witnessed over $1 billion diverted away from public education under Gov. Tom Corbett, creating what is widely recognized as a statewide education crisis.
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These cuts hit Pennsylvania’s 50 poorest districts the hardest, cutting average per student funding by four times more than in wealthier districts. In Philadelphia alone, the district was forced to cut 86 percent of non-teaching positions – from school nurses to student advisers. Soon after more than 20,000 education workers were laid off and class sizes increased by 70 percent.
Bennett sees the November midterm elections as an opportunity for everyone in Pennsylvania to hold Governor Corbett responsible for the fact that he signed off on unprecedented school funding cuts while handing out tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the richest corporations in the state.
“Don’t just sit back and complain,” she says to those who don’t vote in typically low-turnout midterm elections. “Yes, you are one person but when you vote you become a team, and if all these people vote for what you also believe in, it’s going to happen.”
Being a paraprofessional Bennett plays a multidisciplinary role in her school, focusing on students with disabilities and special education. “I became involved in this profession because it is very rewarding to be a part of a child’s growth in his or her learning process,” she says.
I also like to be a part of a cohesive, inspiring and positive team that changes the lives of children. Being a paraprofessional also helps me to advocate for those children that can’t speak or make their voices heard.
As for the governor’s race in PA, Bennett thinks there’s nothing more important than education. “There’s such a push to put corporate interests first, and it’s hurting students.”
Bennett became involved in activism when she began attending workshops and discussions with educators. “I found out how truly important voting is and how important it is for us to represent our children.” At the time, Bennett was awaiting U.S. citizenship, and was eager to participate in the political process herself.
As an immigrant, Bennett is likewise passionate about ESL education and fostering a positive learning environment for non-native speakers. “When I came to the U.S. I didn’t speak any English, so I always thought very highly of my ESL teacher,” she says looking back on her own days as a student. “She always had patience and believed in me, and that’s what I want to do for our students.”