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Pa. House breaks promise, fails state’s children

Parents miss out on new educational options for children

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
December 15, 2011

Last night the Pennsylvania House of Representatives turned back the tide of progress – failing to act on critical education legislation passed earlier this year by the Senate or fulfill promises made publicly and personally throughout the year to enact school reform measures that increase opportunities, provide immediate access for the poor to better schools and give working and middle class families more say in where they send their children to schools.

“The majority leader told supporters for months that he heard the cry of families and children whose lives are predicated upon failing schools throughout the state,” said Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform. “Sheltered by their affluent districts and ignorance about poor educational value in even their best schools, Republican lawmakers yielded to the pressure of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Pennsylvania School Board Association and groups that protect the status quo. They even failed to muster the courage to improve the state’s broken charter law, let alone create and proffer real opportunities for children.”

Over the past several months, CER has been working with state and local coalitions, representing thousands of families, as they engaged in many discussions and meetings with lawmakers and negotiated the details of a package that included an expansion of the state’s tax-credit funded scholarship fund, creation of new opportunity scholarships and the provision for additional authorizers for chartering that is successful in other states. Fine details and often terse negotiations yielded week after week of promises for action and commitments to persevere.

In the end, such promises by Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), whose main concerns this year were Shale taxes and liquor privatization, and Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) turned out to be political gestures only. Throughout the entire year, they ignored deliberations with the Senate that put the needs of students and families first. Even with a Republican majority in Pennsylvania, there were a few courageous Democrats that stepped up to support broad school choice, most notably Sen. Tony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Tony Payton (D-Philadelphia).

“It’s is tragic that the birthplace of freedom, where our founders once rejected the status quo to ensure a better future for their compatriots and a new nation, turned its back on its responsibility to its own children, a majority of whom will never see a college classroom,” added Allen.