While the fiscal conservatives say that we must “tighten our belts” and “everyone must sacrifice,” the recent news that the Chester-Upland(PA) school district has run out of money and can no longer operate their schools is yet another example that the ones who sacrifice are those with the least to give up. (For those not familiar with PA, Chester is one of the poorest cities in the state, and is located 10 miles south of Philadelphia. Its school district depends heavily on state funds because more than 50% of the residents of Chester live below the poverty line.)The state of Pennsylvania is mandated by law to provide quality public education to all children in the state. Yet since becoming governor a year ago, Tom Corbett, has slashed spending on services to the poor, decreased the amount of money the state provides to low income school districts, refused to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and companies, and advocated vouchers so that money would be taken away from public schools. When Chester officials asked the state to intervene, the governor said “no” blaming them for “mismanagement” – yet another example of “blaming the victim”; believe me, no one is getting rich in Chester except Harrah’s Casino and PPL Park the home of the Philadelphia Union soccer team.

When folks want to know what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about when it says the 1% are profiting off the 99%, Chester-Upland School district is exhibit A. While the governor and his Republican colleagues talk about  “balancing the budget”, yet protecting their wealthy and corporate supporters, the poor of Chester and elsewhere suffer.

John Rawls, political philosopher whose work set the framework for the Great Society programs of the 60’s and 70’s, said that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. The moral vision that moved leaders on both sides of the political spectrum to set up social safety net for the poor and disabled caused them to see that the wealthiest society in the world could not allow any of its citizens to go uncared for. The callous disregard for basic needs such as health care, housing and education that began in the 1980’s under President Reagan and has increased to the present shows not only a social callousness but a loss of moral vision. That a state governor can disregard his legal mandate to provide education to the children of Chester, while refusing to levy taxes on gas companies reaping millions in Pennsylvania, only shows how far we have fallen.

Conservatives often like to bemoan the moral decline in our country, and in certain instances I share their concerns, but as Jesus said they need to take the log out of their own eyes before they seek to remove the speck in another’s eye. The judgment falls hard on those leaders who would forsake and deny their moral and legal mandates to care for the needs of the poor, and then have the gall to defend their view by blaming the victims and calling for a “balanced budget.”

If you are a PA resident I urge you to write your state representatives and call upon them to provide funding so that the children of Chester Upland can receive the quality education they are guaranteed by law to receive.