Rendell blasts businesses

No one doubts the importance of improving education in Pennsylvania, so what's got the governor scolding business leaders like an angry schoolteacher?

Gov. Rendell gave a public tongue-lashing this week to the state's business community, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in particular, for not getting behind one item in his education agenda - statewide testing for high school graduation.

Chamber officials, who say they have a comprehensive education policy, felt stung by the blast.

With hundreds of out-of-state business leaders in his Center City audience Monday at a "Summit on Education and the Workforce" put on by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rendell called the 22,000-member state chamber "pitiful" for not rallying to the plan for uniform testing.

That happened to be one thing Rendell didn't get in the $9.7 billion education budget he signed in July. The proposal to require all students to pass a standardized bank of tests in order to graduate was opposed by the legislature and many school boards.

Rendell is still smarting. With education viewed as key to so much that's important in the state, including jobs, economic development and crime reduction, he said Monday, the chamber's "A-list" of issues - taxes, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance - ought to include education. For it not to be was "stupid."

Ouch. Gene Barr, the chamber's chief of public affairs, said yesterday that despite bipartisan opposition to the plan for high school testing, the chamber is "willing to sit down and look at what might make sense," in terms of moving it along.

But, he said, the chamber's priorities are set by its members. "We haven't always seen eye-to-eye with the governor," Barr said. "It's unfortunate, very unfortunate, for him to use such divisive language."

Mike Armstrong is away. Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114 or