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FreedomWorks pushing passage of Pa. school voucher bill at state Capitol

FreedomWorks is planning a press conference Wednesday at the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg to put pressure on lawmakers who have yet to support the school voucher bill SB1.

The group, made popular by its prodigious campaign efforts to elect tea party candidates in 2010, has maintained an active on-the-ground presence corralling activists and school choice advocates as the June 30 deadline for legislation passage nears

In a brief conversation with TAI, FreedomWorks Campaign Coordinator David Spielman explained the organization has 10,000 volunteers gathering petitions and another 15,000 signs trumpeting support for the voucher bill canvassing the state.

And while labor groups have told TAI they do not expect the bill to come to a floor vote in the Senate, Spielman believes SB1 will be voted in by a majority of the senators. “There’s all this back and forth between the House and the Senate,” he says, “lots of infighting.”

It’s one of the reasons FreedomWorks is holding the press conference, arguing the standstill is “holding up kids’ futures.”

The press release for the event indicates one of the two original sponsors of the bill, Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R) will be present. The other original sponsor, Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D) was invited, but Spielman did not know whether his legislative responsibilities would permit him to attend.

“We want a vote by June 30 — anytime a bill sits it’s less likely to succeed,” he explained.

Like in past conversations with the American Federation for Children, TAI asked if FreedomWorks has attempted to reach out to labor groups. Spielman says the organization has invited unions to the negotiating table before, yet they were unanswered.

He also took exception to the popular refrain by education scholars like Diane Ravitch that say the underlying issue behind low education outcomes is poverty. “That’s saying [the students] can’t learn,” Spielman said. “They’re going to classrooms where the teachers don’t care because they are so entrenched in the unions.”

FreedomWorks also told TAI they would have preferred a voucher bill that does away with income eligibility. As it stands, the proposed legislation would include families earning 350 percent of the federal poverty line after the third year of the program. In a previous exchange with Andrew R. Campanella, director of communications for the prominent school choice group American Federation for Children, he wrote, “[e]veryone I’ve met in this movement does this for one reason — helping low-income kids — and nothing else. That’s why you’ll never hear us saying in any serious argument that we think teacher’s unions are ‘anti-child’ or that they want to ‘destroy education’ for children.”*

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