I met Paul Martino and Clarice Schillinger for the first time in Philadelphia in February 2021, when we all appeared on a special edition of “Fox and Friends” to discuss school closures and the ensuing unintended consequences. Each of us was advocating to open our schools in our home districts and counties.
Paul talked about how Central Bucks School District, one of the largest districts in the state, was able to open safely and do what was best for kids. Bucks County districts opened more quickly than other districts thanks to the sensible guidance from County Health Director David Damsker.
Clarice was in Montgomery County, fighting to reopen schools, and I was in Chester County, putting pressure on our myopic county health department to get every child who wanted and needed in-person learning back to the classroom. The three of us didn’t know each other prior to the TV program, but that fateful day set several events in motion.
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Clarice had the political savvy to create a political action committee (PAC) to identify and support candidates committed to reopening schools and to hold those accountable who kept schools closed. After the May 2021 primary, Paul witnessed the impact of Clarice’s PAC. That’s when he and Clarice created Back to School PA, a statewide PAC to support high-quality school board candidates. They asked me to join their team, and we developed and implemented a plan to help fund school board races.
What we thought was a straightforward path to ensure that schools would never be closed again turned into a political battle, the likes of which we never anticipated. Individuals and mainstream media sources labeled us Q-Anon members. None of us even knew what this term meant. It was ludicrous, yet the media continued to paint us as a group of subversives, taking and distributing “dark money.” This is despite the fact that our campaign finance reports were clean and disclosed every donor and expenditure. This is also despite the fact that our largest opposition, the PSEA, the state teachers’ union, has been funding school board candidates for years.
When all was said and done, Back to School PA financially supported 205 candidates running in 56 districts across seventeen different counties. We helped elect 113 school board directors. We were proud of our efforts and the results.
Paul reached out to Clarice and me a few weeks ago about setting up a one-day reunion tour to support a few races across the Commonwealth this year. While Back to School PA is not investing at the same level as 2021, we gave donations to six committees supporting school board candidates. Founder Paul Martino explains, “We identified several key districts around the state that we supported back in 2021. These candidates and their committees have been under attack, and we want them to know that we have their back.”
Co-founder Clarice Schillinger said, “Starting the PAC at my kitchen table, I would have never imagined my advocacy work to get children back in the classroom who needed in-person instruction to be this successful and to garner national attention. Three years later, the reaction to the virus that became so political seems to still be a point of contention while our children continue to suffer the consequences, regardless of the billions of dollars pumped in by our state and federal governments.”
We are pleased to support moderate candidates in purple regions that are competitive.
Across the Commonwealth, our children continue to be used as political pawns while their academic performance declines, despite the largest infusion of funding for public education in our country’s history. As a result of these outcomes, our community members must remain vigilant and serve as watchdogs to ensure that our schools are never closed again. We also need to hold our elected officials accountable for throwing money at the significant learning loss that continues to get worse. It is imperative that we address this learning loss immediately through the responsible use of taxpayer dollars.
Our team flew out of Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on Sunday night and started the tour in Western Pennsylvania on Monday morning. We presented two checks in Allegheny County to PACs supporting candidates in the North Allegheny School District and Plum Borough School District. Barbara Heintz is the Chair of the Friends of NA PAC, and Steve Schlauch is the Chair of the Friends of Plum Schools PAC.
We were back on the road early to head out to Dauphin County to meet with David Feidt and school board candidates from Central Dauphin and Derry Township School Districts. The candidates expressed their sincere appreciation for our support in their endeavor to focus on academic learning loss in their schools.
From the capitol city, we headed north to Allentown to support a slate of candidates running in the Parkland School District. Mike Millo is the leader of the Commonsense Solutions PAC, which supports six candidates.
The final stop of the tour was in Delaware County, with candidates from the Rose Tree Media School District. Michael Straw is the chair of the Make the Right Things Happen PAC.
By the end of the night, our team was tired but enjoyed the 24-hour reunion. We are pleased to support moderate candidates in purple regions that are competitive and look forward to the election results.
Beth Ann Rosica is the former Executive Director of Back to School PA and covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. She is a volunteer campaign manager for five school director candidates in the West Chester Area School District and has received donations from both Back to School PA and Paul Martino.