On Friday at DeSales University the Lehigh Valley Tea Party in partnership with Freedom Works ran a townhall discussion forum on SB1, the school choice bill currently in the PA state senate.
Coverage by channel 69 WFMZ is can be found HERE
Proponents for school choice who are split on their support for the bill showed up to debate if the bill goes far enough in giving parents and children enough options. The meeting began with clips from the movie "Waiting for Superman" documenting how poor families in Washington DC depend on a lottery system to get their children into the better schools.
The first panel discussion took on potential solutions to what ails the public school system.
Special guest speaker Deneen Borelli, who serves on the board of trustees with The Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, New York described how the NAACP is "fighting to keep failing schools open" instead of helping to get children out of failing schools.
One of the most vocal and energetic panel members was Simon Campbell, a School Board Director from the Pennsbury School District in Bucks County. He had a list of recommendations for the legislature in Harrisburg to end what he called, "the massive corrupting power of the teachers unions". He culminated his talk on the frustration that the school district experiences with it's inability to cut wages by aiming a broadside at Gov Corbett and his budget cuts. He said, "I'm fine with the cuts, now get a spine like Gov Walker!" Again and again throughout the evening the theme returned to the need for school boards to reign in costs and that can only be done after Harrisburg changes the rules that schools operate under.
During the SB-1 forum discussion State Senator Mike Folmer defended the limited scope of the bill saying, "We do not have enough money for a universal voucher". Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation spoke to the political reality we face and the fact that, "One election does not a revolution make". More at the Commonwealth Foundation
Most of the case for not going with SB-1 was made by columnist Chris Freind. He often referred to the attempt at statewide school choice in 1995 that failed to pass by a mere three votes and how the political landscape is more favorable now. The current bill under consideration is tailored to help only the poorest families and he argued that a comprehensive bill is needed to bring accountability and competition to all schools. More at the FreindlyFireZone.com
Everyone agreed that a more active role by the senate leadership and the Governor would be needed to pass a bill that would have a greater effect on the states education system. To that end everyone was encouraged to contact their state legislators. All the local state legislators were invited to come to the townhall event but only Senator Folmer, from the Lebanon County area, came out.