An amazing moment happened on Monday, July 31 at 2 p.m. in the ongoing debate over Lifeline Scholarships, a program designed to rescue students trapped in the worst-performing schools. I only wish a TV station could’ve broadcast the events side-by-side.
It would’ve been great television, and it would have underscored two radically different approaches to addressing students attending failing schools — especially working-class and poor families who don’t have options.
Did I mention that the political leaders “debating” Lifeline Scholarships were both Democrats?
READ MORE — Terry Tracy: Matt Bradford’s dishonest op-ed shows where the Democratic leader’s real priorities lie
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (who happens to be white and middle-class) was holding an anti-Lifeline rally.
At the very same time, Mr. Ryan Boyer, President of the Philadelphia Building Trades (who is African-American and also the Business Manager of the local Laborers, whose members are primarily African-American and live in the city) was on WPHT talk radio making the case for Lifeline Scholarships. He feels so strongly that he also wrote a thoughtful column.
Ironically, Bradford and his allies were standing in front of “Southern” (South Philadelphia High School, my father’s high school) — a school with student assessment test scores among the worst in Pennsylvania and with the most violence, as well. Bradford pounded the podium, blaming the test scores on a “lack of funding” and promising to fight for more money.
Here are a few facts Mr. Bradford “overlooked.” The state budget Governor Josh Shapiro negotiated, and Bradford actually voted for, includes the largest single increase in public education spending, ever: $714 million more. This is one year after the then-largest increase in public education spending, ever. The Philadelphia School District’s budget for the coming year is $4.4 billion.
One might ask Mr. Bradford, how much more money does Southern need — and, when that money arrives, how fast will the school become safe, and when will test scores jump? And why do students have to stay trapped in schools like Southern while bureaucrats figure out how to “fix” them?
Would he send his kids there? Might he prefer Neumann-Goretti? It’s a few blocks away, is majority-minority, and nearly half the students are not Catholic. It’s a school almost no Southern student can afford.
We all know who wouldn’t send his kids to Southern: Ryan Boyer. He explained that he’s unapologetically supportive of changes to a system that just isn’t working for a lot of kids — and for all ways to increase choices for parents.
The fate of up to 250,000 of Pennsylvania’s children hangs in the balance. So does our Commonwealth’s future.
As Boyer revealed in his column and to talk-show host Dom Giordano, when his son was old enough to attend their local public school, they lied about his address. You could hear and feel the pain in Boyer’s voice describing how he had to instruct his son to lie about their address so he could attend a safer school.
Mr. Boyer speaks passionately about the realities of poor and working class families in Philadelphia, especially people of color trying to help their children pursue the American Dream. In this way, he sounds similar to State Senator Anthony Williams, another Democrat who speaks passionately for Lifeline. Williams speaks to the political realities of being an elected official fighting for decades to change things from every possible approach. Williams worked and and waited all those years, only to see things go from bad to worse.
Boyer speaks to the way things are and he’s had enough. He speaks with the passion of a civic leader, a union leader, and a parent.
He’s for rescuing children, now. Debate the ways to fix public schools, but let’s also create more good choices. Let’s not have any more children taught to lie or be trapped in poverty.
Whether by coincidence or not, two Democrats offered different paths to saving children and changing the way things are. The fate of up to 250,000 of Pennsylvania’s children hangs in the balance. So does our Commonwealth’s future.
Bradford’s way has failed too many for too long — and his family and suburban constituents in good school districts have the luxury of debating this forever.
Boyer knows for too many students, the time for action is now, this school year. It’s an academic, economic and moral imperative. They need a Lifeline.
Guy Ciarrocchi is a Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad + Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow him @PaSuburbsGuy.