In the late 1960s, state education officials concerned about opportunities for artistically talented students created the Governor's School for the Arts.
This past February, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed eliminating funding for all eight Governor's Schools of Excellence, due to budget shortfalls.
The schools provided 752 gifted students with five weeks of intensive study. The arts school, with up to 200 students, offered concentrations in visual arts, music, dance, theater and creative writing.
"Art is just another subject. It's a subject that is just as relevant to the world as math or science or English," says Hester Kamin, a Pittsburgh native and PGSA '92 graduate. "These schools are trade programs for students who not only have special talents in an unusual area, but also tend to be extremely high-achieving."
Kamin, director of education at the Hawaii Theatre Center, helped lead the letter-writing campaign to save the schools, enlisting star alumni like actor Kevin Bacon and novelist Alice Sebold.
"People of all ages -- alumni, prospective students, faculty -- have been very organized in trying to make our voices heard to the government about what a profound impact this has on people's lives," says Kamin.
Rendell received more than 2,500 individual letters, 2,600 petition letters, and a petition signed by more than 11,000 people. Students rallied at the state Capitol, and dozens of events showcased the work of PGSE alumni. Facebook group "Save the Govies" has nearly 5,000 members.
Despite the outpouring of support, many feel that legislators -- who are preparing to finalize the budget -- have paid no attention.
"I am now convinced that I would have been better off training students how to fundraise to hire lobbyists," says one activist and PGSA alum who wishes to remain anonymous. "The $2.7 million it would take to keep these incredibly successful programs on the books in Pennsylvania is such a small amount of our state budget. It's a question of voices being heard ..."
It's unlikely that funding will be restored this year. But activists are looking to the future. Andrew Smith, PGS International Studies '07, helped organize the March 10 rally in Harrisburg which helped garner support from at least four legislators. In mid-May, Smith plans simultaneous rallies in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
"By having our rallies on a Saturday, we will have Govies coming in droves," says Smith. "It blows my mind to think about what all of them can do when only 20 [at the Harrisburg rally] did so much." (Watch for details on the "Save the Govies" Facebook page.)
Meanwhile, stand-in programs have emerged for prospective Governor's School students. Three of the schools (Global Entrepreneurship, Health Care, and Information, Society & Technology) are being offered at host institutions. The Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, in Midland, Pa., created a two-week program for Governor's School applicants, and is the only substitute program that will not charge tuition.
"I think it's wonderful that places like Lincoln Park are stepping forward and offering alternatives," says Kamin, "but the government still isn't doing its job in educating its students. If our public government can't provide opportunities to all learners, and if the choices are to eliminate programs that are legendary in their success, then how is Pennsylvania serving its children?"