Pandering To Inner City Reps Could Doom Passage
And so it begins. The first challenge to Governor Tom Corbett is upon him. Surprisingly, it’s not from public sector unions, trial lawyers or natural gas opponents, but from within his own Party.
It’s a challenge that, if handled the right way, would send a message that the Corbett Administration will turn Business As Usual on its head. If not, the GOP caucus could factionalize, in turn jeopardizing a host of other tough issues on the Governor’s agenda.
And it all revolves around misguided school choice legislation that would do more harm than good.
This being School Choice Week, it’s ironic that the Pennsylvania Senate choice bill — introduced with much hoopla — would neither improve schools nor offer true choice. Instead, it is legislation stuck in the past, once again pandering to the wrong crowd — the Black Caucus. These are the folks that some choice advocates still naively believe are necessary to court in order to achieve even a modest school choice victory.
They were wrong fifteen years ago, and they’re wrong now. In fact, not only is Senate Bill 1 a bad bill, but one that will have a difficult time passing.
At issue is the program being limited to low income families, defined as those whose income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level – a family of four would qualify at $28,000 household income. And that’s after a three-year phase-in.
Left out of the equation is….everybody else.
Pennsylvania’s students are subpar across the board — inner city, suburb and rural. Not only can they not effectively compete with their counterparts in other states (they are 42nd in SAT scores), but, as a whole, are part of our nation’s systemic educational failure. America’s students consistently rank near the bottom in math, science and literacy when compared to their global competitors. And since this is an ever-increasing world economy, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The days of competing with Seattle and San Francisco are over; our best and brightest can barely keep up with average students in Singapore, Stockholm and Sydney.
And yet we’re supposed to believe that an extremely limited school choice program for relatively few inner city students is going to be the panacea?
Give us a break.
One of the bill’s prime sponsors, mid-state Republican Jeff Piccola, should know better. A longtime champion of education choice, Piccola has nonetheless dropped the ball on this bill, buying into the politically-correct hype that having at least one black legislator on board is the only way to assure passage. So he allied himself with Democratic Senator Anthony Williams from Philadelphia.
Williams, you may recall, threw himself into last year’s governor’s race late in the game, backed by a few wealthy supporters who pumped more than $5 million into his campaign. One of Williams’ major issues was school choice.
Fine. The fact that Williams, up to that point, had never been a leader on school choice raised a few questions, but give him the benefit of the doubt that he is now a choice advocate. But to what level?
True believers realize that school choice will only work if the vast majority of students participate, something impossible with the Piccola-Williams bill.
Why should Williams care? His constituents will benefit, but the other 99% of Pennsylvania families will be left out in the cold. Not a tough choice for Tony.
But for the majority of legislators who will be asked to make a tough vote, look for them to start pushing back, countering with a simple message to the bill’s prime sponsors and the Governor: do it right, or not at all.
The reason this bill is doomed is simple. As it stands now, suburban and rural legislators will be asked to incur the wrath of the teachers’ unions (who stand adamantly opposed to the accountability that school choice legislation would bring), while their constituents would not benefit in the least.
And make no mistake about the teachers’ unions. While they spent millions in last year’s election cycle, and were soundly defeated, their forced union dues make their campaign war chests virtually unlimited. Being a presidential election year, 2012 should prove….
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Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”
Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
January 28, 2011 at 6:23 am Comments (0)