About $60,000 in funding for Holocaust education in Pennsylvania has been cut from the 2009-2010 state budget by the office of Gov. Edward Rendell.
That leaves no state funds currently appropriated for Holocaust education in Pennsylvania.
The Holocaust education funds were part of a broader ethnic heritage line item in the Department of Education’s budget.
For the last several years, the Department of Education has distributed the $60,000 to the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council (PHEC), a “membership of educators who care that the lessons of the Holocaust be taught in Pennsylvania schools,” said Christopher Gwin, vice chair of the Council.
The governor’s press secretary, Gary Tuma, blamed the state’s dire financial condition for the cuts.
“It was such a difficult budget year,” Tuma said. “We cut a vast number of grants. We were faced with a $3.2 billion shortfall in the 2008-2009 budget, which necessitated a lot of cuts. … About 80 percent of the budget was cut or eliminated.”
The PHEC, a volunteer organization that is made up of both active and retired teachers, has been using the funding “to support teachers, programs and the teaching of the lessons and history of the Holocaust in schools across Pennsylvania,” Gwin said.
The organization provides grants to teachers for educational materials, to bring survivors to their schools, and to help fund field trips.
Additionally, the PHEC places steamer trunks, filled with teaching materials, in high schools and middle schools across the state, according to Gwin. Schools may purchase trunks on their own, or may request matching grants from PHEC. Once the trunk arrives, the PHEC provides professional development for the teachers, and a PHEC volunteer to act as a liaison while the school integrates the trunk material into its curriculum.
More than 30 trunks have been placed so far throughout the state.
The PHEC also sponsors teachers to attend national conferences, and has piloted a summer teacher workshop and seminar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
As a result of the funding cut, the PHEC has put a hold on any new projects, requests or initiatives.
“We are simply funding what we had already promised to fund before the freeze happened,” Gwin said.
The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, a watchdog group that seeks to educate state government officials about issues affecting the Jewish community, is trying to determine how to assure funds for Holocaust education for next year, said its executive director, Hank Butler.
“We would like to see Holocaust education become its own line item, rather than part of an educational grant,” Butler said. “We are working on that now, and we’re currently looking into other potential resources for this year.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1263.)