As the number of coronavirus cases fell in the spring, the founders of Keeping Kids in School PAC, a political action committee that aims to elect school board candidates committed to keeping school buildings open, faced an existential question: Was their effort still relevant?
In the May primary, Keeping Kids in School endorsed 91 candidates, 86 of whom went on to win, a 94 percent success rate. But concern over those 86 candidates’ primary campaign issue increased as the state continued its hands-off approach through summer.
For the PAC and its supporters, that existential question was answered by Gov. Wolf’s recent statewide mask mandate, says the PAC’s founder, Clarice Schillinger.
“[Last week], he looked at the whole state and said, ‘The schools did not do what I wanted. The counties did not do what I wanted. Only 60 schools adopted mask mandates out of the 500. Therefore, I’m going to make a mask mandate through the department of health.’ So, in fact, none of us — no one had the choice of how to operate,” Schillinger said.
That resurgence of state-level control over district operations serves as justification, according to Schillinger, for a new offshoot organization Keeping Kids in School PAC created, called Back to School PA. Rather than directly endorsing individual candidates, as Keeping Kids in School PAC does, Back to School PA’s mission is to fund local PACs that exist to provide consistent funding and support to nearby school board candidates who adhere to and promote a single issue of concern: advocating for as much safe, in-classroom instruction over tele-learning as possible.
BTSPA says it has so far cut checks of $10,000 to 30 newly created PACS that will do this grassroots work, and hopes to do the same for another 20 PACS in the next few weeks.
“My fear is even though Back to School PA does not take a position on [mask-mandates], I pose the question, what do the next three weeks look like?” in terms of state mandates versus local control for school district operations, Schillinger said.
Although BTSPA and its sister PAC were created in the heart of the Delaware Valley because of Schillinger’s advocacy for her own children in the Hatboro-Horsham school district, the grants have been spread out across the state.
“We’ve had candidates reach out to us and say, ‘How do I get money?’” said Beth Ann Rosica, chief strategy officer for BTSPA. “And we say, ‘Well, we’re not endorsing individual candidates. We’re not giving money to single candidate PACs. We are looking to support grassroots advocacy advocates in the community who are willing to start PACs to support school board slates that focus on keeping kids in school.’”
The majority of BTSPA funding has come from Doylestown resident Paul Martino, a co-founder of Bullpen Capital, known for reaping a giant return on investment with its early bet on FanDuel.
This article first appeared in Broad & Liberty.