The Philadelphia School Partnership, the nonprofit that last week offered the school district $25 million to expand charter schools, now has an affiliated political action committee that has donated $7,000 to the mayoral campaign of state Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia.
Mark Gleason, executive director of PSP, says his organization has focused on investing in schools and lobbying for change in Harrisburg. But it saw a need to affect the political process directly “because many of the policies that hold back Philadelphia schools and schools around the commonwealth are state policies.”
As a nonprofit corporation, PSP can’t make political contributions. The new PAC, called Excellent Schools Pa, is technically distinct from PSP, but Gleason signed its registration statement in September, and its officers are closely affiliated with PSP or its lobbying arm, Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners.
Of the roughly $104,000 Excellent Schools Pa has raised so far, $75,000 came from another political committee called Students First PAC, which is funded almost entirely by the three wealthy pro-voucher, pro-charter Bala Cynwyd donors who gave $5 million to Williams’ 2010 gubernatorial campaign
I reported last week that those same three donors plan to fund an independent expenditure effort to promote Williams’ mayoral campaign, and they’ve already put $250,000 into a new committee, called American Cities, to get that started.
It’s a little odd that when you connect the dots, it appears most of the money the PSP-related PAC gave to Williams came from the guys planning an independent expenditure campaign, which by law can’t coordinate with the Williams’ campaign.
I see no legal issue here, since there’s no evidence that the Bala Cynwd investors directed any money to the Williams campaign. (Students First PAC gives to many committees and causes besides Excellent Schools Pa.) And even if they had, there’s no prohibition I know of on someone funding an independent expenditure campaign and also donating directly to the candidate they support, as long as the campaign didn’t solicit the check.
A spokesman for the Bala Cynwd investors, partners in the Susquehanna Group International, said they plan to use the American Cities committee as their only vehicle for supporting Williams.
Gleason said the Excellent Schools Pa PAC is a relatively new entity and should get a wider base of contributions and will contribute to many different candidates.
Gleason also told me none of the PSP-related entities are endorsing Williams for mayor.
“The contribution to Senator Williams was in recognition of his long record of championing educational opportunity for all families in his role as a state senator,” Gleason said.
The committee can legally contribute another $11,500 to Williams if it so chooses.
So, if Williams gets major help from choice advocates, will he be the kind of out-front school choice candidate he was in the governor’s race?
So far he’s spoken mostly about ways to increase funding for public schools. When I pressed him in a January interview about whether he’d embrace school choice in the mayor’s race, he said taxpayer-funded vouchers are no longer a realistic option in Harrisburg and won’t be an issue.
I asked about charter school expansion.
“Yes, I’m open to options. I believe a person who lives in Rittenhouse Square is as concerned as a person in another section of the city about the quality of their school,” Williams said. “The difference is, i don’t think anybody who frankly is controlled by their income should be denied access to a quality school. So if a charter school adds to that menu, and it’s a good charter school, then I think somebody should be allowed to do that.”
In a statement from his campaign Monday, Williams said he believes in increasing city education funding by shifting the city tax burden to property taxes; attracting more businesses to increase school district revenues; developing a sustainable revenue stream to address the pension crisis and free up more money for education; and continuing to aggressively collect delinquent property taxes.
Williams has just released what he says will be a series of position papers on education policy. It focuses on ideas for school funding. You can read the paper here and an analysis on the PhillyMag’s Citified blog by my friend and former colleague Holly Otterbein here.
Our content partners at the Public School Notebook contributed reporting to this story.