Speaking Truth to Power on Education Equality

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Progressives like to play the part of the underdog, pretending to take up the cause of the marginalized against the entrenched powers of well-funded special interests.

It’s ironic, then, that when it comes to education, the Left has become the well-funded special interest blocking progress for those whose voices are often ignored. 

Pennsylvania’s public education system is a relic of injustice that assigns students to government-run schools based solely on zip code. Some of the worst-performing schools are in cities, which are also often home to high concentrations of minority students. Despite how badly the schools perform, these students are stuck there unless their families have independent means to move elsewhere or pay for private tuition. 

As more and more states across the country embrace the progress that’s providing every child – regardless of zip code – an equal opportunity to access a great education, more and more voices are rising up in Pennsylvania, fighting for the same opportunity for our kids.  

Among the most passionate voice is Black Pastors United for Education (BPUE), founded by Harrisburg Pastor Josh Robertson. Pastor Josh graduated from high school unable to read. Thanks to a mentor who stepped in, Pastor Josh not only learned to read but went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. 

In 2021, he founded the Rock City Learning Center, which provides children from families without abundant means with individualized learning opportunities, mentorship, and, most important, hope for the future. 

In addition, entering the fight recently was entertainment mogul Jay-Z, who raised the ire of the establishment by launching an initiative in support of school vouchers, also known as PASS Scholarships. Jay-Z’s organization, Roc Nation, put it simply: “Roc Nation’s advocacy is centered around children and their right to seek the best options for quality education.” It added: “If PASS scholarship legislation is approved, the initiative would empower parents and caretakers to evaluate multiple school programs and make informed scholastic decisions for the well-being of their children. Otherwise, parents are simply at the mercy of the system, where their kids’ academic futures are predetermined based on economic status and the location of their homes.”  

The reality is that students in poorly performing schools want options. Their families want options. And advocates for these kids want options. 

But well-off special interests with power are fighting to block options and keep our outdated, discriminatory public education system in place. Not surprisingly, these powerful special interests – namely, teachers union leaders and the politicians whose campaigns they fund – benefit financially from the status quo. 

Unlike most private K-12 schools, traditional public schools are unionized environments. This means that teachers and administrators in those schools pay union dues, which translates into more money in union coffers. Teachers’ unions are terrified by the growth of educational options that don’t increase the unions’ bottom lines. 

The two main teachers’ unions in the country – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – are multi-million-dollar behemoths. Recent financial disclosures show that in 2022-23, AFT’s revenue hit $283 million, and AFT President Randi Weingarten made nearly $500,000. Meanwhile, NEA’s revenue was more than $529 million, and NEA President Becky Pringle also made nearly $500,000. 

The NEA and AFT are classic examples of a well-funded special interests. They spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying to prevent funding to help kids from low-income families attend better schools. And they donate tens of millions of dollars to candidates who will vote against expanding school choice programs.

Consider Democratic state Sen. Lindsey Williams, the minority chair of the Senate Education Committee. Williams has accused those working to rescue inner city – often minority children from failing schools – of racism. Williams is white, yet is fighting to block poor, often-minority children from getting a better education. Not coincidentally, well-funded teachers’ unions have given well over $100,000 to Williams’ election campaigns. 

On the state House side, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford has brought in nearly $250,000 in teachers’ union political donations. In return, he’s actively worked to block school choice from advancing in his chamber. 

What’s more, many of the lawmakers opposing school choice send their own children to private schools – a luxury they can afford given their over-six-figure salaries.

The Left talks of “speaking truth to power,” or standing up to the entrenched government leaders who use their position to oppress others.  

But when it comes to education, the Left has become the entrenched oppressor in what is quickly becoming the civil rights frontier of our day: equal educational opportunity.  

Thankfully, those like Pastor Josh and others are unafraid to speak truth to power. And the truth is that every child, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic standing, deserves access to a quality education. 

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