The Philadelphia Inquirer had a revealing article last week about the millions of dollars that activists are spending to persuade Pennsylvania lawmakers to adopt a school-voucher program similar to the one just approved in Indiana.
“From Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Montgomery County to West Philadelphia, the money is paying for lobbyists, renting rally buses, printing pamphlets, even buying bright red backpacks for pupils,” report John P. Martin and Amy Worden. “It has flowed — sometimes in five- and six-figure checks — to legislators’ campaign coffers. And it has funded an unusual wave of attack ads, mailers, and websites against lawmakers who are undecided or opposed to vouchers.”
The Pennsylvania story features the same plot line and characters as the one that played out in Indiana. At its center is the American Federation for Children, a pro-voucher organization whose political action committee shares an address with Terre Haute, Ind., Republican super-lawyer James Bopp.
School Matters reported in February on AFC and its role in bankrolling the voucher cause through big contributions to Republican legislative candidates. The organization’s board of directors includes a Walton family member, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party and a couple of directors of Democrats for Education Reform.
FreedomWorks, the Tea Party group headed by former House Republican Leader Dick Army, also is involved in the Pennsylvania voucher effort. Another player is Pennsylvania Students First, not to be confused with StudentsFirst, the organization started by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee (although Rhee now also backs vouchers).
It sounds like Senate Bill 1, the Pennsylvania voucher bill, is very similar to House Bill 1003, the voucher bill that the Indiana legislature passed in near-party-line votes. As in Indiana, lawmakers in Pennsylvania sold vouchers as a way to help poor kids escape failing schools but introduced a bill that gives vouchers to middle-class parents.
For a detailed look at the pro-voucher money machine – how the American Federation for Children PAC collects tons of money from a handful of rich ideologues and funnels it to activist groups in several states – see Rachel Tabachnick’s article on the website Talk to Action. Who knew that AFC head Betsy DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, the founder-owner of the private military company formerly known as Blackwater?