Cancer is a terrible disease. There is no doubt that anyone reading this right now has either been stricken with the illness, or has had a loved one who has suffered from it. But I have the perfect remedy.
As a cure, I found some crumbs in my pocket that I will sell to you for $5,000. Of course, there is no doubt that you will find the naysayers who will tell you that such a treatment will not work. Obviously, these are the people who work for the current medical establishment like the AMA, who will deny you this precious cure. The AMA and their ilk obviously have a stake in perpetuating cancer since that is how they make their bread and butter. They are the ones that are preventing me from selling you the crumbs in my pocket, and to finally put an end to this pernicious disease.
OK. You see where this is going. It’s the kind of spiel that you might expect to hear when Alex Jones hawks his snake oil, and we shake our heads at the rubes who are gulled by his sales pitch. But when we talk about educational vouchers – more often than not it is just the same snake oil in a different bottle. Yet for some reason, many experienced and rational people fall for the argument
The state currently has two educational tax credit programs that indirectly fund scholarships for students living in the Commonwealth. But the institutions that benefit from these scholarships have no obligation to share achievement, student progress, or the former school of the recipient of these scholarships.
But try to nail down the Republican led state senate on this point, and you get the kind of argument like the one above: The teachers unions are blocking school choice, denying poor children of color the right to a decent education. And you can’t just throw money at the problem.
Their arguments are so specious that even Judge Renée Jubelirer, the Republican president justice of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, rejected them. This past February, after listening to testimony of witnesses for both full and fair funding and for school choice, she concluded that “Yes”, it would be better to “throw money at the problem” than to subject the state’s public school students to a voucher program, because in her view, throwing away money is tantamount to hiring competent teachers, buying up-to-date textbooks, and remediating school buildings to account for loose asbestos, lead in the drinking water, and lack of accessibility for certain students.
Yet the state senate wants to re-litigate the fair funding case in the court of public opinion by sending Gov. Josh Shapiro a budget that includes $100 million for a new voucher program called PASS (Pennsylvania Award for Student Success) as well as $150 million for the two existing educational tax credit programs, while only providing $100 million for the state’s 100 poorest school districts. Beyond that, all other educational funds increased to an amount that barely kept pace with inflation.
And that’s about the point where you, the reader, come in. Many of you responded to the alerts that Blue Pennsylvania, or a number of other pro-public education organizations had sent out, by writing a letter to Gov. Shapiro, as well as your state legislators. As a result of your efforts, Gov. Shapiro promised to line-item veto the PASS scholarship program. Your voices were heard.
Unfortunately, the battle is not over. Jeffrey Yass, the richest person in the commonwealth, has been at the forefront of the movement to create a voucher program in this year’s state budget. In early July, he, and his wife, Janine, wrote a long op-ed in the Inquirer singing the virtues of vouchers. There is also a high suspicion that he is behind a new push to get the PASS scholarships into the budget when the legislature convenes in the fall.
Yass’s interference in public education has not been limited to school choice programs. In 2021, PAC’s subsidized by Yass contributed $145,000 to a PAC founded by venture capitalist Paul Martino– Back to School PA – which helped to overturn Democratic school boards across the commonwealth. As a result, we have seen books being banned from school libraries, and a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ and racial minorities in many districts.
After the summer transitions to fall, there will be ample opportunities to get our legislature to fund our schools and elect good school board candidates. In the meantime, here is one way that you can make a difference:
Are you a member of a book group. Consider asking your group to read and discuss one or more of the books listed toward the end of this blog post. These are taken from booklooks.org (http://booklooks.org/book-reports), an organization connected with Moms for Liberty, which has had success in banning books with racial and LGBTQ+ content from schools and public libraries.
If you choose to read any of these books, you may want to include these questions in your discussions:
1. What is it about the book that someone might find to be offensive?
A. Is there sex or violence in the book that would transcend any redeeming messages that the book might convey?
B. Does the book pose questions that some people might not want answered? Why? If so, are those questions still worth asking?
2. Is there any action that members would be willing to take – either as a group, or as individuals? If so, here are some resources you can use.
A. Use this toolkit to take action against censorship: https://uniteagainstbookbans.org/toolkit/
B. The 2023 Election: This year many school board races will take place in school districts across Pennsylvania. Many resources are available to help determine who is running this November, and where they stand on banning books and other forms of censorship. You can start by going to the Red Wine and Blue Pennsylvania website. Also, you can assure that sensible candidates are elected in two severely impacted school districts this November by clicking on these links to Central Bucks, and Perkiomen Valley.