Pennsylvania state senator under fire for ‘inner city’ comment

     A view of Harrisburg and the state capitol from City Island. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    A view of Harrisburg and the state capitol from City Island. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    A Pennsylvania state senator’s remarks at a recent town hall have prompted some calls for him to step down from the committee he chairs.

    Republican John Eichelberger of Blair County heads the Senate Education panel, and he’s receiving harsh criticism from across the aisle after saying inner city students might benefit from less intensive academics.

    Eichelberger—who’s an outspoken school choice advocate—told the crowd money was being wasted pushing unprepared inner city kids into college programs. He suggested it might be better-spent getting them into vocational programs.

    Democratic Senator Vince Hughes, who represents the Philadelphia area, took umbrage, saying Eichelberger’s comments show a prejudice against inner-city kids and should disqualify him from running the Education Committee.

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    “Should there be more vocational programs? Absolutely. Should there be more higher education programs? Absolutely. But don’t perpetuate this myth, this stereotype, that we can’t achieve,” Hughes said.

    He added that lower scores only happen because inner city schools aren’t equally funded.

    “If he [Eichelberger] is so damn caring, he should fund the schools the way they deserve to be funded,” Hughes said.

    In a statement, Eichelberger said his comments were taken out of context, and he may have spoken unartfully.

    He said he thinks “every student deserves to be provided with options for their education.”

    He also noted that the current school system is failing to give kids appropriate guidance—a point Hughes also made.

    Eichelberger and Hughes haven’t met to talk about the disagreement. Both expressed an unwillingness to make an overture.

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