A school vouchers bill was front and center in Harrisburg Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Senate’s Education Committee was holding a daylong hearing on the Republican priority measure, which would provide tax-funded vouchers to low-income students in failing schools. Democrat Anthony Williams, who co-authored the bill, used his opening statement to defend the rhetoric he’s used comparing public education to Jim Crow-style segregation. “Those who chastise me by injecting the civil rights comments that I do on occasion: Separate but unequal is what we have. And it’s not simply urban schools (but) rural schools. This country is in crisis, when it comes to delivery of education,” he said. Williams and co-sponsor Jeff Piccola, a Republican, have aggressively challenged opponents of the measure, using communism analogies, alongside the Jim Crow comparisons. Early in the hearing, Democrat Daylin Leach pushed back, saying he and others have legitimate concerns about the voucher system.
“That we’re creating a huge new entitlement. A government entitlement in a time of recession,” he said. “We’re taking money from the poorest schools, and leaving those still there with even fewer resources to try and make their education a little better.”
Later, Leach said, “I don’t view myself as someone standing on the schoolhouse door. I view that as an offensive analogy.” Gov. Tom Corbett’s pick for Education Secretary, Ronald Tomalis, testified in favor of a vouchers program, though he stayed away from wading into the specifics of Piccola’s measure. The legislation would gradually expand the voucher program over a three-year period.