On May 9, 2023, one week in advance of the primary election, the editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer penned an article titled “Voters should prioritize education and student well-being in Central Bucks school board race | Endorsement.”
The editors of the largest newspaper in the City of Brotherly Love issued a formal endorsement of five Democratic candidates running for the Central Bucks school board. “Fortunately, five of the nine seats on the school board are up for election, giving voters the opportunity to restore balance. The best choices in the May 16 primary are incumbent Karen Smith and newcomers Heather Reynolds, Dana Foley, Rick Haring, and Susan Gibson.”
The editors blamed the incumbent Republican majority for discord in the district. “The rancor and folly on display at Central Bucks school board meetings is part of a broader right-wing extremist culture war that has embroiled school districts across the country since the pandemic.” They ended with a call to action for voters to elect a new board. “The best way for the Central Bucks School District to stop being another front in the culture war and return its focus to the education and well-being of all its students is through the ballot box.”
READ MORE — Terry Tracy: The Inquirer editorial board’s ongoing war with the facts at the Central Bucks School District
In the Inquirer’s 2023 Endorsement Guide, the editors state that they “typically limit their endorsements to highly competitive races.” The guide describes their vetting process. “We thoroughly research the candidates’ backgrounds, including a review of the published work of our newsroom colleagues and additional reporting by the members of the Board.”
Despite their thorough vetting process, the editors did not provide specifics about each of the five endorsed candidates other than links to their individual campaign websites, as quoted above. The editors failed to mention that one of the candidates, Rick Haring, is married to a teacher working in the same district in which he is running. While this is not new or particularly interesting, the fact that she is suing the district is noteworthy. In April 2020, Rebecca Cartee-Haring filed a federal lawsuit against the Central Bucks School District, alleging that the district routinely hired men at higher pay grades than those set by district policies between 2000 and 2023, an alleged violation of the Equal Pay Act.
A quick Google search returns this article, written in February 2023, detailing the initial suit and the subsequent class action lawsuit. Haring’s attorney, Ed Mazurek, who filed the case, hypothesizes that damages could be worth up to $60,000,000 in total, with each plaintiff receiving approximately $133,000 in back pay.
The editors at the Inquirer either did not do their homework on Haring or chose to ignore the facts. A recent letter to the Bucks County Herald editor stated concerns about Haring’s lack of disclosure about the lawsuit.
Since the majority of lawsuits are settled out of court, it stands to reason that there will be settlement discussions between Haring’s attorney and the school board’s attorney. It seems like an important detail for the Inquirer editors to disclose during their endorsement process, yet they remained silent on the issue.
The editors were remiss in not disclosing this information in their endorsement. Furthermore, why would the largest news outlet in Southeastern Pennsylvania endorse a candidate whose wife is suing the board he is running for?
The Inquirer in the two examples above has surpassed its typical left-leaning perspective.
The Inquirer editors are not the only writers guilty of leaving out important facts. An article entitled “See how much money your school district has for students” was published just last week. The story featured a lot of interesting artwork and an interactive tool to compare state and local funding levels between school districts. However, there were important data points missing from the article.
“Philadelphia School District is underfunded. It ranks 232nd in per-student spending out of 499 districts in Pennsylvania.” While this statement from the article makes a good headline, it does not tell the whole story. For example, enrollment in Philadelphia’s public schools has declined significantly. Since 2019–2020, the inception of school closures, more than 11,000 students, or 8.6 percent, have left the Philadelphia School District. Pennsylvania public schools lost more than 139,000 students, or 7.7 percent of students, from 1999–2000 to 2022–23.
The article did not address declining enrollment or the possibility that fewer school buildings may be needed now. Additionally, public education has seen the largest increase in funding in its history. In the first round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, the state of Pennsylvania received $523.8 million. Of that amount, the Philadelphia School District received $105,060,900, and that does not include the apportionment for nonpublic schools.
In the second round of ESSER funding, Pennsylvania received $2.2 billion, and Philadelphia received $551,316,151. While these were one-time infusions of funding, huge amounts of money were dumped into public schools. The Inquirer failed to mention these funds or declining enrollment, leading readers to believe more funding could solve the problem. Throwing more money at public schools is not going to solve the problem. Granted, the funding system needs an overhaul, but the article was misleading without this information.
READ MORE — Richard Koenig: The Inquirer, Mark Tykocinski, and the ruction at Jefferson
Founded in 1829, the Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the oldest newspapers in the country. While it is similar to many large urban newspapers in terms of its political leanings, the Inquirer in the two examples above has surpassed its typical left-leaning perspective. As most of the Inquirer’s readers are likely progressive Democrats, the narrative is probably affirming to them. However, maybe these types of articles are one of the reasons for declining circulation and readership.
The Alliance of Audited Media reported that in 2022, the top 25 newspapers across the country experienced an average twelve percent drop in circulation. The Inquirer, included on the list, surpassed the average with a 20 percent decline, resulting in an average print circulation of 61,180. While online news sources are certainly the cause of some of that decline, they can’t be the entire answer, since the Inquirer’s decrease is higher than the average.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, like all media outlets, has a responsibility to research the facts and tell the full story, not just the parts that fit their political alliances. I encourage the editors to update their rationale for the endorsement of the Central Bucks candidates after completing a thorough vetting process.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.