Tuesday, September 19, 2023

When Choice Advocates Work Really Closely With Legislators

Turns out that the Commonwealth Foundation has been working really closely with the PA legislature to push school vouchers.

The Commonwealth Foundation is a right wing dark money advocacy group. Goerge Coates, the chair of their board, also sits on the board to the State Policy Network (SPN), a collection of right wing activist groups and thinky tanks, and the board of DonorsTrust, a group that turns rich peoples' money dark and untraceable. They advocate for the usual stuff, and try fun tactics like "paycheck protection" and trying to convince teachers to quit their unions.

Commonwealth Foundation has always stayed close to the issue of vouchers in Pennsylvania, which have surfaced with locust-like regularity (here's 2017 and 2018, for examples). The next-to-most recent time (2022), the Foundation showed uncanny timing. When the House approved the neo-voucher Lifeline Scholarships, the Foundation had its press release ready to go that same day, with talking points remarkably similar to those used by the legislators pushing the bill. 

When the court ruled that Pennsylvania's school funding was unconstitutional, Foundation VP Nathan Benefield was at the front of the line of people trying to bend the court's ruling to mean that vouchers should happen

So there are no big surprises in today's news from The Keystone. A Right To Know request from The Keystone turned up an assortment of emails (they're right here) between Commonwealth Foundation and the state Treasurer's office. There's PA Treasury Policy Director Tom Armstrong reaching out to see if someone can come talk vouchers to Secretary Stacy Garrity, and Nathan Benefield replying that sure, the last time he spoke with her, "she said she'd like to see our office and stop for coffee, so maybe we can do that with or in addition to a policy discussion." Gee, I sure wish I could casually invite policy makers in government over here for some coffee and the chance to push my policy ideas.

Garrity's office was working with Senate GOP to get their newest version of education savings accounts--neo-vouchers- into law via the budget process. Meanwhile, Stephen Bloom, another Commonwealth Foundation VP, was staying in touch with Armstrong.

“Tom, with the Senate and the House versions of the Lifeline Scholarship bills having been introduced, we wanted to promptly provide you with our updated Fact Sheet and Talking Points on the bills. Please share with Treasurer Garrity and others on your team as you deem appropriate,” Bloom wrote.

You can read The Keystone's account of the sausage making for more detail, or if you have the stomach for it, dive on into the actual correspondence (only 13 pages of it). 

The governor vetoed the line item for vouchers, and so Commonwealth Action magically and suddenly appeared to spend money pressuring lawmakers to pass voucher anyway. 

It's another infuriating reminder that one of the best way to Get Things Done is to be someone whose only job is to sit in an office in the state capitol and maintain a network of contacts so you always get a hand in what's going on. 

P.S. The Keystone story comes with a reminder: Pennsylvania already has tax credit scholarships, a form of voucher that allows rich folks to give money to private schools instead of paying taxes to the state, and all the fans of even more vouchers dodged a ton of taxes (aka shifted the tax burden to other taxpayers) to the tune of millions of dollars. 

1 comment:

  1. As a general rule, charters, private, parochial, and other choice options (homeschooling, pods, etc.) offer less qualified and less experienced teachers, less curricular and extracurricular variety, and less diversity.

    This begs the questions, what the heck is turning parents away from their free public schools? And what should public schools do to respond to this increasing rejection by this growing pool of engaged parents?