HARRISBURG - Third-grade teacher Elaine Blackmon took a deep breath and made her best sales pitch.
"What's good for Philadelphia public students is good for students across the commonwealth," Blackmon told an impassive assistant to Rep. Martin Causer (R., McKean). "We're asking him to reconsider Gov. Wolf's budget."
Blackmon was among hundreds of people who descended on the state Capitol on Monday to lobby lawmakers deep in negotiations to pass a state budget. Among them were more 100 teachers, nurses, and other members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, sporting red T-shirts and making their case for more funding for city schools.
Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has asked for more than $200 million in new money from the state. Wolf has proposed $159 million extra for the Philadelphia school system. Republicans passed a budget that would give the district just $18 million more.
In a big white tour bus lumbering up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Harrisburg, PFT staffer Evette Jones prepped the teachers: Be firm, but not argumentative. Remember that you're an expert in educating Philadelphia's children.
"Let them know the lack of materials and supplies we have," Jones said. "Let them know what it's like to have a nurse only one day a week, what it's like to have no music or art class, that there aren't enough people to watch kids in the lunchroom."
In many cases, the rank-and-file handed out literature and presented buttons ("Every Child Deserves a Certified School Nurse Every Day!") to people who seem to regard Philadelphia and its schools with suspicion.
Art teacher Ray Guzman was philosophical about his mission.
"This may not have a lot of impact, but it puts a face on the issue," said Guzman, a teacher at Swenson Arts and Technology High School. He made the legislative rounds with Blackmon, who works at Hancock Elementary, and Carol Murray, a teacher at Pollock Elementary.
"Without federal grants, my school's budget for last year was around $140 for the whole year, for the whole school," Guzman told an assistant for Rep. David Hickernell (R., Dauphin). "We have almost 650 kids. Absent those grants, I don't know how we'd operate."
Blackmon smiled widely in the office of Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Berks).
"Could you let the representative know that Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the country without a fair funding formula?" she asked. Knowles' secretary nodded slightly.
In the Capitol halls, the trio ran into Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery), who stood with PFT president Jerry Jordan and others at a morning rally before the lobbying began.
"It's a bad situation," Daley told the educators. "People are more than willing to point the finger at teachers."
But those who walked the Capitol halls Monday tried to ground lawmakers and their staff in their realities.
Michele Perloff, the nurse at Disston Elementary in Tacony, said the budget for medical supplies for her school - and for others across the city - was $300, which works out to 35 cents per student. The total must cover not just bandages, and sterile gloves but thermometers, otoscopes, and other equipment.
"And most of the time, we have no soap in our building," Perloff said.
Anne Smith, a nurse who works at Central High, shook her head.
"They want schools to perform miracles with no money," she said. "They should be throwing resources at schools, not taking them away."
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) told a fired-up crowd of PFT members that his mother was a Philadelphia school secretary who never missed a day of work in 33 years.
Hughes railed against colleagues who passed a budget that would give only meager increases to Philadelphia and said that if the conditions in city schools prevailed in suburban districts, "there would be an insurrection."
"We will not fail our children," Hughes said.
After Guzman, Blackmon, and Murray completed their list of House members, they made their way over to the Senate side, knocking on doors of Philadelphia lawmakers to thank them for their support.
In Sen. Christine Tartataglione's office, they received a warm reception from Bryan Burton, who was fielding phone calls for her.
"We're doing all we can," Burton told the teachers. "We're not out of options yet."