And the winner of the May 18 primary elections for governor is...state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams of West Philadelphia. Williams didn't actually win the Democratic primary -- he finished third out of four candidates -- but he successfully injected the issue of school vouchers into the gubernatorial debate. Proof of that came when the primary winners, state Attorney General Tom Corbett for the Republicans and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato for the Democrats, told school choice advocates today that they support "in concept" legislation Williams is now pushing in the state Senate that would, among other education reforms, allow public school money to pay for private school tuition.
"When it comes to education funding, I'm going to put the students first and make sure the funding makes it to the their classrooms and not be filtered off somewhere else," said Corbett, who said "for far too long," school reform has been controlled by the "education establishment" and teacher unions instead of parents and students. "It's not something we should consider. It's something we must do."
Onorato, endorsed for governor in March by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, told the crowd that would not stop him from supporting vouchers for low-income students in failing schools. Onorato said he pushed for a Pittsburgh City Council resolution in the 1990s to support vouchers when then-Gov. Ridge attempted to have them approved in the state legislature. "I don't view it as: You get endorsed and you have to be 100 percent with any organization," Onorato said of his support from teachers unions. "I don't see it as a conflict."
Today's discussion was sponsored by the Students First PAC at the National Constitution Center. The political action committee, with significant funding from Main Line trading firm executives, advocates for public money to follow public school students to whatever style school -- public, private, cyber, charter -- they attend. The Students First PAC donated more than $5 million to Williams' campaign for governor.