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Poll: Most PA Parents Would Send Kids to Private School

If money weren’t a problem, a majority of Pennsylvania parents would pull their kids out of public schools. That was the finding of a new poll from the Commonwealth Foundation.

The survey of 800 Keystone State voters found that 55 percent said, financial considerations aside, they would rather their kids attend a private school. Fewer than one in five (18 percent) picked public school as their first option.

More parents preferred sending their kids to a non-religious private school (33 percent) than a religious private school (22 percent). Charter schools and home schools were the choice of seven percent of respondents.

Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano said the poll’s most disturbing finding was the poor grade most Pennsylvanians gave the public school system. “[W]hen asked to grade the K through 12 system, the respondents gave schools twice as many F’s as they did A’s.”

Those who tended to favor public education made over six figures. Stefano said that showed “if you can buy in the marketplace options” — in other words, afford to move to communities with high-performing public schools — you have a more positive view of government-run education.

Only three percent of those making less than $40,000 gave public schools an A, while 11 percent gave public schools an F. The results were similar for respondents earning between $40,000 and $125,000 annually.

While schools historically taught ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic,’ 41 percent of Pennsylvanians did not believe that is happening in classrooms today. Almost 50 percent believe students aren’t learning life skills. Student safety concerns were at 38 percent, while 37 percent of parents worried about learning loss from COVID shutdowns.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a bill last week expanding the state’s tax credit scholarship programs by $150 million. The first-term Democrat previously reached a deal with the Republican-controlled Senate on vouchers. That plan was ditched in July after the Democratic-controlled House refused to pass a budget that included $100 million for school choice.

Shapiro, however, has consistently said he wants to give children “more opportunity to learn” if they are in difficult situations.

Pennsylvanians feel the same way, and according to the Commonwealth Foundation poll, they want the governor to honor the deal he made with Senate Republicans on student scholarships.

The Commonwealth Foundation said 61 percent agreed the scholarships should be funded. Sixty-four percent of people 18 to 29 and 67 percent of those 30 to 44 believed Shapiro needed to follow through on the voucher deal. A whopping 70 percent of people living in the big city favored the agreement. Not only that, but 63 percent of Democrats and independents gave support to scholarships.

“[It’s] very interesting, given that the Democratic Party elites were debating whether to have a resolution to condemn school vouchers as policy,” said Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “They seem to be appeasing the teachers unions but are out of touch with their own voters who think that Gov. Shapiro should get that done and support lifetime scholarships for low-income kids.”

Shapiro avoided a rebuke from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s rules committee last week after an anti-voucher resolution was tabled. Party Chair Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) said the national Democratic Party asked the resolution to be tabled under the guise of party unity. He wouldn’t say who from the Democratic National Committee made the request.

An original version of the anti-voucher resolution would have included language criticizing Shapiro for talking to Fox News about vouchers and that “school voucher policies are widely supported by the [party’s] political opponents.”

School choice advocates still hope vouchers will become a reality in Pennsylvania. American Federation for Children CEO Tommy Schutz told DVJournal that “Empowering families should not be a partisan issue; in fact, a super-majority of every political party and demographic – including 66 percent of Democrats in a recent poll – support it. Democrat Party leaders who have chosen to represent the unions instead of their constituents on this issue do so at their own political peril.”

Sen. Williams Has A Plan to Fix Philly’s Crime Problem: Spank Your Kids

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” may not actually be in the Bible, but it was on the mind of Delaware Valley state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) during a recent podcast interview with DVJournal.

The topic was crime- specifically the rise in violent crime- and as he often does, Williams pointed out that both sides offer incomplete solutions. Defunding the police isn’t a serious approach, he argued, but at the same time, the police aren’t perfect. He pointed to the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, unintentionally shot by Sharon Hill police officers, as an example of law enforcement’s need for better training and smarter strategy.

But there is one home-grown remedy, he told DVJournal, that he believes can help prevent crime before it occurs.

A spanking.

“With all due respect, I believe in corporal punishment,” said Williams. “Now, I don’t believe in beating to bleeding and breaking bones and abusing, but spanking somebody in the butt when Johnny’s acting a fool at a public place, and you want to say ‘time out.’ I don’t think it necessarily works,” said Williams.

He also called for parents to be held accountable for their children’s behavior.

“I mean, children driving those three-wheeler vehicles down the street around City Hall at midnight, I don’t know who thinks the police officer should be fixing that, right? That’s a parent problem. So, for me, fundamentally, a lot of stuff goes back to the parents, period.”

Inna Leiter, Psy.D., director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Media, told DVJournal she believes spanking is counterproductive.

“Consistency with punishment is super important, and having firm boundaries. Having consistency with your kids is important, and being able to follow through on consequences. Hitting your kids, spanking, corporal punishment, that serves as a model for aggression and leads kids to be more aggressive,” said Leiter, a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric behavioral problems.

While “being too lenient is not effective,” she said, neither is “hitting kids.” Parents need to make sure there are consequences, but those consequences should not include spanking.

“The gold standard in behavioral treatment doesn’t include any kind of corporal punishment for kids,” she said.

“This old-school mentality does the opposite,” she said. “Hitting your kids will increase their aggressiveness in the short term.”

Williams said parents need to administer correction via a child’s backside when necessary, but parents also need the community to get their backs.

“Parenting needs to be supported much more significantly than it is,” said Williams. Parents should teach their kids the fundamentals, including respect.

“Let me be clear: when you’re 14, and no one told you that not every police officer is an enemy, but you look at them as such, guess what? You’re going to act accordingly,” said Williams.

“A lot of recklessness that I see today would never have happened in my neighborhood,” said Williams. He grew up in a predominately African American community with “working class folks who had some issues with the police officers, but they knew that, generally speaking, you respected the authority in place.

“Children going to school and acting up, and the teacher is the enemy, and the parent comes up to the teacher and says, ‘You did something to my child.’ When I went to school, If I did something, I was guilty as charged,” Williams said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also opposes spanking.

“Corporal punishment – or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool –increases aggression in young children in the long run and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control. In fact, new evidence suggests that it may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development. Other methods that teach children right from wrong are safer and more effective,” the AAP said in a statement.

Dr. Marion Mass, a Bucks County pediatrician, does not favor spanking but agrees with Williams that children need discipline and guidance and that parents need to step up to provide it. She listed some incidents.

“Somehow, we have gotten to a point where some are letting kids run the show,” Mass said.

“Kids are destructive in the most horrific of ways. Look at the case of slain police officer Fitzgerald at Temple.” Allegedly “gunned down by an 18-year-old carjacking with his younger brother.”

“Remember when 13 and 15-year-old girls carjacked and were responsible for the death of an Uber driver? It’s gone on for a long time,” she said. “In 1994, 10 and 11-year-old boys wouldn’t take ‘no ‘for an answer, and they dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse 14 stories to his death because he refused to steal candy for them.”

Mass added, “It’s in the schools. We saw a 6-year-old bring a gun to school intending to hurt his teacher in Virginia, and more and more teachers are reporting violence. In 2019, there was $1.3 million in damage done to a Central Bucks school. It looked as though it were arson and implications that a juvenile was responsible.”

And “the historic Perkasie covered bridge that was burned down by six young college students in 2004. Those young men tried to set an unsuccessful fire and came back later with a gas can,” said Mass.

“The Perkasie fire of 1988 caused $9 million in damage and destroyed buildings erected in the 1800s. How? Two 12-year-old boys were playing with a lighter, started a fire, then walked away. I think a fire truck melted,” Mass added.

The Rev. Dr. Jerome Coleman, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Abington, also sees a lack of discipline as a problem and agrees with Williams that spanking is an effective remedy.

“I do agree that the problem with youth today is that parents are not disciplining their children. I don’t think discipline means that you have to spank your children. Discipline comes in many forms, like timeout, taking away cell phone privileges, withholding video games, not giving an allowance, sitting down and talking with your children, etc.,” he said.

“However, I’m not against spanking. What I am against is abuse. There is no factual data to support that spanking a child leads to an abusive child. We have made the mistake of raising our children off of theories and hypotheses, often by people who have never had children,” said Coleman.

“Many parents feel handcuffed by a government who they feel is undermining their authority and gives the benefit of the doubt to children instead of parents,” said Coleman. “A child can receive a spanking, and that child can accuse the parent of abuse, and the parent immediately comes under suspicion. I was in a meeting where a parent said she felt threatened by her teenage son, and the police said there was nothing they could do. But if a child makes the same accusation…”

“The core of why children appear to be so violent, angry, and depressed starts at home and the failure of parents to discipline their children. Discipline is not a curse word. It’s teaching children to obey rules and obey those in authority. It’s correcting misbehavior to improve moral character and ethics so that children can be positive, productive citizens and contribute positively to their families, communities, and society. It’s “training a child up in the way that they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). The National Institutes of Health still says that parents have the greatest influence on their children,” said Coleman.

“When you look at our children’s behavior currently, you can clearly see that at the core, it is a lack of discipline at home,” Coleman added.

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Attempted Kidnapping at Abington Mall Worries DelVal Parents

The recent arrest of a 44-year-old Philadelphia man who allegedly tried to kidnap a teenage girl at the Willow Grove Park Mall has Delaware Valley parents on edge. It is also a frightening reminder for some that the rising crime in Philadelphia can be felt in the suburbs.

As outlined by Abington Police, Khalilh Evans tried to abduct a 14-year-old girl at the mall shopping with her friends after she became separated from them on July 12. The girl escaped and captured an image of Evans on her cellphone. Evans, who has a long list of prior offenses, turned himself in to police on July 13.

“I think some of the failed policies in Philadelphia with the District Attorney’s Office, where somewhat of a revolving door, where dangerous felons are let back out on the streets to prey upon our citizens,” said Abington Police Chief Patrick Malloy. “And this is a particularly disturbing case because those are innocent children. This shouldn’t have happened. He should have been detained. He should have been in jail…The system failed.”

Evans approached the girl as she got off an escalator, grabbed her arm, and walked her toward a mall exit. She screamed and was able to escape. Another man was with Evans, police said. The men then fled in a dark gray Dodge or Chrysler minivan.

An analysis by Broad + Liberty showed that while crime incidents increased in Philadelphia by 32 percent from 2018 to 2022, arrests fell by  45 percent in the same period. The authors quote a police source saying police morale has fallen under District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Khalilh Evans

And Tom Hogan, a former Chester County district attorney, now an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, writes that Krasner, who was first elected with funds from progressive financier George Soros, enacted ideological reforms of “de-prosecution and decarceration” that have led to increases in crime, including murder. The “main victims of the rising homicide rates have been black Americans. Moreover, as businesses have fled increasingly lawless urban centers, the remaining residents have lost both their jobs and their local businesses,” Hogan wrote.

The incident has DelVal parents rattled.

Chalfont mother, Jamie Cohen Walker, has three children, daughters ages 17 and 15, and an 11-year-old son.

“I don’t want my kids going to the mall now,” said Walker. “It’s terrifying.”

A Telford mother whose children are younger said, “With the rise of child trafficking and kidnappings in general, I would never allow my children to go to a mall by themselves.”

Some parents plan to turn this incident into a teachable moment about personal safety.

Elkins Park mom Samantha Brooks said she would probably continue to allow her 12-year-old daughter to go to the mall with friends.

“But I will ensure she has strategies to deal with different scenarios,” said Brooks.

Radnor parent Mike Lake agreed.

Lake said, “I am just as likely (to allow it) but will need to have some important dinner conversations on personal safety and how to try and avoid trouble and what to do if you’re grabbed.”

Jeff Jones, a Drexel Hill resident who is running for Delaware County Council, said his 12-year-old son was at the Springfield Mall Friday afternoon when DVJournal reached him by phone. His sons have all been Boy Scouts and know to stick to the buddy system, so he was not too worried but planned to call and check on him anyway.

“I think this is an opportunity for parents to reinforce that kids should stick with their partner,” said Jones. “Always have somebody watching your back. Don’t talk to strangers.”

However, Jones said he would keep a closer eye on his daughter, now 27, if she were a young teen.

Evans was charged with false imprisonment of a minor and two counts of harassment. He was arraigned Thursday evening, and his bail was set at $25,077. Because of probation violation detainers, he would not be released from jail were he to post bail, said Kate Delano, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.

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Point: Education’s Future Depends on Parent Power

For another viewpoint see: Counterpoint: Too Much Parental Involvement Hurts Kids

If there’s one thing the last three years have taught American parents, it’s that they need to take control of their children’s education.

Despite massive infusions of additional federal cash after COVID-19 hit the country, on top of K-12 education spending tripling since 1970 to a record $751.7 billion per year, most U.S. school districts are unable to address the basic educational needs of our youth.

The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests confirmed this and did not surprise parents who’ve witnessed educational neglect firsthand. The results, released in October, showed that two-thirds or more of fourth- and eighth-grade students tested can neither read nor do math proficiently. Even Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a friend of education unions and a defender of the traditional system, described the scores as “appalling.”

But rather than recommend a bold change, Cardona asked Congress for more money, without any accountability, I might add.

Contrast that to what really works for kids: education personalized to their needs, designed with learning in mind, and able to engage students actively. That’s real innovation, and its presence is a game-changer in students’ lives.

So is fostering “parent power,” providing parents with the right to choose what works best for their family and the information and resources to do it.

As the Center for Education Reform’s new 2022 Parent Power Index shows, however, this only exists robustly in fewer than a third of the states. Florida leads the pack, followed by Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Minnesota. Overall, more than half of the states (28) — including California, Michigan and New York — earned grades of D and F. No wonder education achievement is so low, particularly for children with special needs and those who were being poorly served by the change-resistant education system even before the pandemic struck.

Parents are fighting for more power today, and more education innovators are stepping up to fill their needs.

This was apparent in the competition for the $1 million Yass Prize, awarded Dec. 14 to Arizona Autism Charter Schools, with millions more awarded to other exemplary organizations.

“I was just a mom,” said Diana Diaz-Harrison, founder of the Arizona schools. “As an autism mom, I don’t want my kid to be seen as disabled. I want him to be seen as a doer, intelligent, productive, and so these charter schools that we are starting across America will help our children be neurodiverse, be who they are and be fulfilling, productive citizens.”

Kenisha Skaggs tells a similar story about SOAR Academy, the micro-school and tutoring center she founded in rural Georgia: “Imagine being an eighth grader on a first-grade math and reading level … in the public school system. … That was Keanna’s story when she met us last year and attended our school.”

These are only two of the 2,700 education entrepreneurs from 49 states who entered this year’s Yass Prize competition. Many organizations were founded by parents, some by educators who value parents and understand that many children have unique needs.

In Phoenix, for example, Janelle Wood launched the Black Mothers Forums during the pandemic, a first-of-its-kind urban micro-school network that operates small group learning centers for Black moms and their children. Nearly 2,000 miles away, in Detroit, another Black mom, Bernita Bradley, started an organization called Engaged Detroit, which coaches Black moms on home-schooling their children, provides them with curriculum tools, and advocates on their behalf to make it easier.

Only some parents have the ability, energy, fortitude or resources to become  hands-on educators or educational entrepreneurs. They shouldn’t have to be heroes and fight the system to deliver what’s best.

We can no longer afford to wait as traditional public schools awash in cash deprive children of their right to a great education. It’s time for state leaders to follow the example of Florida and Arizona, support parents like Diana, Kenisha and Janelle, and provide them with the freedom, opportunities and resources to drive their children’s education.

Push for Radical Gender Policies in K-12 Education a Top-Down Effort, Mastriano Says

Parents in several Delaware Valley school districts have complained about their children being exposed to a “woke” gender agenda and explicitly sexual books and materials in their classrooms.

Now critics are pointing to materials from the state Department of Education under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that appear to make it look like a top-down effort.

For example, the DOE website lists genders as “ne, ve, ze/zie and xe,” as well as “he/him, she/her” that they label “traditional.”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, called out the Wolf administration and is touting bills he’s introduced to empower parents and end these programs.

“Once again, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration skirts the legislative process to implement a far-left agenda behind the backs of the 13 million Pennsylvanians,” Mastriano said in a statement. “These guidelines encourage school districts to proselytize radical ideas about gender identity to children in all grades, all under the guise of school safety.

“The department touts the left’s twisted vernacular as objective fact, while the governor’s Democratic allies demonize parents as too bigoted to teach their own children about these sensitive topics,” Mastriano said. “We can teach kids to be tolerant, accepting, and kind to others – no matter what – without indoctrinating an entire generation.”

Mastriano said he stands behind several Senate-led bills to prioritize and empower parental involvement in our public education system, alert families about explicit material available in school libraries and limit formal conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation to middle and high school curriculum only.

He also introduced legislation earlier this year to establish a Parental Bill of Rights. It would give families statutory rights to “direct the upbringing of their children free from bureaucratic overreach,” the release said.

“Our schools need to focus on closing the learning gaps that worsened as a result of the governor’s ill-advised pandemic school closures, not forcing elementary-age children to engage in inappropriate conversations about gender identity,” Mastriano said. “It is up to parents, not the state, to engage with their children on these complex social issues and I will never stop fighting for their right to do so.”

Casey Smith, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, defended the gender policy. “The children who attend our schools represent the diverse backgrounds and cultures of our commonwealth, and that includes Pennsylvanians with various gender identities and expression. It is incumbent upon us to support all learners and make them all feel welcome in their schools and communities.

“The Wolf administration supports equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts in every school, and one way we can better serve our learners is by providing resources so that schools can support students who come from all walks of life.”

Fenicia Redman, a parent with a son in the Great Valley School District, told DVJournal she believes there is an intentional effort to influence children with an extreme ideology. “There are wolves among our children masquerading as Granny. I’ll see them soon in federal court.” Redman said she plans to sue the district over sexually explicit books found in school libraries.

Jim Jacobs, who took his son out of the West Chester Area School District because of a gay pride celebration at Stetson Middle School that encouraged boys to wear dresses, agrees this is not education.

“I know teachers who tell me personally – in private – they hate this garbage and agenda. But they want to retain their jobs,” Jacobs said. “Everyone I have spoken to, regardless of political party, has a huge issue with this being taught, but they’re afraid of standing up because of repercussions and being canceled. These are our youth coaches, shop owners, and just everyday working Americans who want to live their lives and educate their kids. Its indoctrination on top of indoctrination- how does this get passed to be taught to our children without parents being involved?

“Yes, it’s important to be tolerant and accepting of different religious beliefs and sexual preferences- but introducing this in school for kindergarten, middle school, and high school? Insanity,” said Jacobs.

The  Central Bucks School Board voted last week to keep graphic books out of elementary and middle school libraries.

A campaign spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democrat running for governor, did not respond when asked whether Shapiro would keep the Wolf administration policies in place.

 

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DelVal Parents Told Posters of Kids’ Books ‘Too Graphic’ to Display at Capitol

When Fenicia Redman organized a group of Delaware Valley parents to travel to Harrisburg this week and argue that public schools are exposing children to inappropriate content, she didn’t know the state Capitol police would help make her case.

Redman, whose son attends Great Valley High School, supports two bills limiting sexual content in the curriculum and discussions of gender identity. Both advanced out of the state Senate Education Committee this week, She has been leading the charge against sexually explicit content in some school library books.

While at the Capitol, Redman talked with state Rep. Barbara Gleim (R-Carlisle) and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), garnering support for her cause. She showed them posters of obscene illustrations in school library books available to children.

Books the parents object to include, “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex.”

Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor and member of the education committee, said in a statement the two bills will “empower parents to ensure their children are not exposed to sexually explicit materials and bizarre discussions about gender identity. Just this week, I had a visitor (Redman) to my office who showed me some of the explicit materials found in her child’s school library. It was shocking, to say the least. Schools need to be focused on educating–not indoctrinating–our students. The classroom needs to be a place for learning, not a place for gender theory lessons and grooming.”

SB 1277 requires districts to notify parents about sexually explicit content in the school curriculum and whether their child’s coursework includes that content. SB 1278 would prohibit classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for pre-kindergarten through 5th-grade students. Both passed the committee on Tuesday and will be taken up by the full Senate.

Redman and other parents who were with her, including a pastor who usually votes Democratic, wanted to show legislators that “this is real. We were out there peacefully…I am a parent, and I have a child who is being victimized by the mere presence of these books in the school library.”

And while Redman’s group was in the Capitol holding signs showing the explicit illustrations in books found in local school libraries, they were ordered by police to take them down. Too graphic.

“Capitol Police Lt. Devlin ordered me to remove the most graphic pictures because someone complained. ‘Children walk these halls,’ he told me.”

“I replied, ‘But these books are in school libraries and—‘”

“‘I don’t care. Get rid of them, or you’re OUT!” he told her. So, she packed up the posters of the obscene book illustrations. As she was walking down the hallway, Redman saw Mastriano’s office and went in and showed his staff the book illustrations and asked what “his position is on the criminal exploitation of our children, of minors in school is.”

The staff member went to a back office and ushered Redman in a minute later.

“And when I showed it to him, his jaw dropped,” she said.

Another senator’s office had an easel with a sign warning against banning books. Redman put one of her illustrations beneath it to juxtapose that message with the pornographic illustrations.

State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) posted on Instagram about banning books: “DYSTOPIAN: Banning books is antithetical to the pursuit of knowledge — especially when this draconian ban targets books that address race and racism. PA students deserve better.”

Gleim says she first saw the books with lurid illustrations that she called “pornography” at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in March and was surprised they were available in public school libraries. Since then she has been alerting her colleagues in the House, including Speaker Bryan Cutler, about the issue.

She has also heard from various parent groups and talked with the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

“The content is not appropriate,” Gleim said. “We’re working on ways where we can define what is age-appropriate for minors in school libraries.”

And she believes showing this content to minors may also violate federal laws.

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West Chester Area Parents Continue to Object to Pornographic Books in Schools

In the face of parent complaints, the West Chester Area School District continues to keep controversial books on its middle and high school shelves, including extreme adult language and graphic images of sex.

At the April school board meeting, parents read some of the more explicit content of the books. Superintendent Bob Sokolowski responded by reiterating his support for keeping the controversial content in schools. “I’m standing, students. I’m standing with you and some of the things I heard tonight, we’re talking about freedom of speech. We’re talking about choice. We’re talking about choice and we’re talking about listening to the voice of our students and students, my pledge to you: We’re going to turn that volume up and you’re going to hear the student’s voice.”

Anita Edgarian, a mom, told Delaware Valley Journal that the “superintendent of WCASD pledges to ‘turn it up’ to LGBTQ students after many parents read from sexually explicit materials in our library. The rest of the students don’t matter.”

Mike Winterode told the board that when concerned parents, grandparents, and residents spoke about the books at a previous meeting, they were accused of being intolerant and transphobic. But many of the books they are complaining about include explicit scenes of heterosexual sex as well.

“Those speakers are missing the point. They’re only focused on the transgender characters in the books and not the content of the book itself,” said Winterode. “The fact is, along with [the book] “Gender Queer,” there are a large amount of school district library books containing graphic and obscene content, with heterosexual characters, as well as homosexual and transgender characters. Our concern is with the content, not the characters.”

Image from “Gender Queer”

Winterode noted that the books don’t just “sit innocently on library shelves.” In January, one of his neighbors told the board about his 6th-grade daughter being given a book about gender transition by her teacher.

Winterode noted schools are protected from charges of giving pornography to minors because of a law that exempts education institutions. He called on the state legislators to change that law.

Parent after parent spoke about the library books, some reading shockingly graphic scenes of sexual acts.

“There are many books in our libraries that are not appropriate for even high school-age children,” said Leanne Smith. “Some books include both physical and sexual abuse and even some child grooming.” There are “books listed 18-plus like, ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex.’ Do high schoolers need to read that? You need to take a fine-tooth comb to the libraries in the district.”

Lisa Mansueto said she is concerned about “lack of communication with parents” and “lack of common sense.” She read excerpts from “Tricks” that she called “straight-up pornography with a hefty dose of heroin and cocaine and prostitution and rape, all available to high schoolers.”

Alexis Cooper said, “School librarians seem to feel that minors should have access to all sorts of content even if it’s not age-appropriate.” She cited “Milk and Honey” and the book about tantric sex.

“If this happened in any other setting, adults would be facing charges,” she said. “Yet schools have zero accountability.”

“Leave controversial matters to the parents,” Cooper urged the board.

Several parents, a student, and an author also spoke, telling the board they are in support of keeping the books in the school libraries.

Julie Moyer leads a support group for parents of transgender children. She said most of the books that other parents are objecting to involve LGTBQ-plus information. Transgender youth are four times as likely to commit suicide, she said.

“I am grateful to the school board for voting to keep books like “Gender Queer” on the shelves…We shouldn’t make these books unavailable to the people that need them.”

Edgarian later said those parents who spoke against the pornographic books “respect and love” the LGBTQ students but do not believe these books are age-appropriate.

“I look at the total individual, not only their sexual or gender part, their interests, talents, personality, desires, goals. We need to stop categorizing people,” she said.

Parents in several other Delaware Valley school districts, including Central Bucks, Radnor, and Great Valley have also complained about books with graphic content in their schools. The issue was highlighted in the Republican governor race when former Congressman Lou Barletta recently held a press conference on the topic.

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How Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Stalls Education Reform Favored by Taxpayers

Taxpayer-funded public school lobbyists who favor increased funding at taxpayer expense typically oppose legislation that would expand educational opportunities for the children of those same taxpayers, according to policy analysts and elected officials.

That’s a lose-lose arrangement for Pennsylvania parents who are dissatisfied with the performance of their public schools. But it’s also one they are largely unaware of, said Rep. Andrew Lewis, a Dauphin County Republican, in an interview. He finds that too many lawmakers are “cowed” by well-funded pressure groups.

“It’s sad to see how much influence these comparably small organizations have when you contrast them with the magnitude of all the parents across Pennsylvania who want to be able to send their kids to a school of their choice,” Lewis said. “But if you’re lawmaker just listening to this alphabet soup of groups like the School Boards Association, or say, the Association of School Business Officials, then you’re inside the bubble and you’re not listening to parents.”

Lewis is the lead the sponsor of House Bill 1, which would implement a wide range of public and private school options. The bill would remove current impediments to the formation of new charter schools while also increasing the amount of scholarship funds that would be available to cover private school tuition. But Pennsylvania taxpayers who support these proposals are funding public school lobbyists who do not, which would help to explain why the bill has not yet moved out of the House education committee.

Rep. Andrew Lewis

At least $24.1 million in tax dollars were spent on membership organizations that participated in lobbying efforts from 2017 to 2020, while 26 local governments and agencies spent $18 million in tax dollars to hire contract lobbyists since 2007, according to two new reports from the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank based in Harrisburg.

Here are some of the key findings:

The largest association representing school officials is the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PBSA), a $9 million outfit with 9 registered lobbyists, funded by $7.2 million in taxpayer-funded dues. The PBSA has made it a priority to cut funding for charter schools and increase funding for conventional public schools while opposing school choice measures.

But it’s not alone. Since 2007, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials has received $735,000 in tax dollars, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Administrators has received $490,000, the Pennsylvania Principals’ Association has received $150,000, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small School has received $94,000.

“I never hear these groups talk about what’s best for parents or what’s best for kids even though these entities are funded by the taxpayers,” Lewis said. “They’ll often complain about charter school funding, and they’ll often describe this as their number one problem plaguing their districts. But what they fail to realize, or mention, is that any parent that sends their kid to a charter school has determined that this is a better option for them than what the school districts currently provides for their kid. So, these taxpayer-funded entities are advocating directly opposite for what’s in the best interests of those parents and their kids. They also ignore the fact the public school district gets to keep 25 percent of the funding and they don’t have to pay for any of the actual educational costs borne by the charter.”

Under HB 1, Lewis would open new avenues for charter schools, expand existing tax credit scholarship programs and create Education Opportunity Accounts where the state would deposit about $6,000 per student for parents to spend on education. The bill also provides protections and incentives for “learning pods,” which groups of parents formed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis would create “affirmative protections” to ensure that parents and children who take part in learning pods “are not subject to undue surveillance, reporting, regulatory demands or harassment,” according to a legislative memo attached to the bill.

“This might be the most aggressive school choice bill in the country now,” Lewis said. “But getting this bill out of committee has been a challenge. One option we have considered is a discharge resolution, and how this works is you get a couple dozen members to sign on and force the bill out of committee. That’s step one, but then you still have to get leadership to run the bill. But with school choice being as important, timely, and crucial as it is, we should vote so the people can see where legislators stand.”

Lewis favors the creation of a statewide authorization board as part of HB. 1 to empower local communities with more options to create charter schools.

“Right now, we have a situation where the school district decides whether to authorize a new charter and what this means is you have the fox guarding the hen house. Often times, the people making these decisions are the ones running the failing schools and they know that if a new player comes in who is competitive it’s going to take away some of their student population.

“So, you’ve got this double situation where not only is a school failing, but these school officials are blocking any entity that would provide new opportunities for families. My bill creates an independent statewide charter authorizer that bypasses the local districts so charters can gain approval from an unbiased board,” Lewis said.

What then are the prospects for education reform?

Lewis sees an opportunity to expand both the Education Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Tax Credit programs as part of the budgetary negotiations that will take place over the next few months. He’s less certain about the possibility of charter school proposals and Education Opportunity Accounts gaining traction at least in the near term.

“There are several promising proposals,” he said. “But I don’t know if our leadership has the stomach or the willpower to fight for these reforms so they can come to fruition. The charter school component of my bill, for example, is a heavy lift because special interests see it as a threat to their monopoly.”

Dave Hardy, a senior fellow with The Commonwealth Foundation, who is also the co-founder and retired CEO of the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia charter school, expects to see parents operating at disadvantage so long as their tax dollars are used to support lobbying against legislation that they favor.

“If the people who operate charter schools want to do any lobbying, they have to do it out of their own pockets,” Hardy said. “But there’s a whole apparatus that has been set up and funded by the taxpayer to lobby against charters. It’s really an insane situation. Parents who want to talk to lawmakers and pay for their own traveling are on a limited budget. They are at a huge disadvantage.”

The Commonwealth Foundation performed its studies by submitting Right-to-Know requests to local government agencies including school districts. But only about 40percent of those agencies responded and out of the 571 school entities that received open records requests, just 105 responded – a response rate of just 18 percent. For this reason, the reports understate the amount of taxpayer money that is devoted to opposing school choice. Even so, the reports produce several major takeaways that help to explain why reform measures like HB.1 have stalled.

The bottom line is that public school lobbyists have a huge financial advantage over taxpayers who do not support their policy agenda. The Pittsburgh School District, for example, paid $552,075 to Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney from 2013 to 2020, according to Right-to-Know records. A search of the Pennsylvania State Department’s lobbying database shows the district spent an added $293,467 for lobbying from April 2008 to December 2012.

A complete list of the expenditures where taxpayer money has been used to pay lobbyists is available here. Some of the school districts that ring the bell include the Hempfield Area School District, the Philadelphia School District, the Pittsburgh School District, the Bloomsburg Area School District, the West York Area School District, the Harrisburg School District, and the Sharon City School District.

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Parent, Residents Complain About Sexual Content in WCASD Books

A West Whiteland parent says he was surprised and disturbed when his 11-year-old daughter brought a book home from school that tells the story, in graphic detail, of a young boy who wants to be a girl. Worse, the father said, the book was assigned to his daughter by her teacher.

The book is “George” by Alex Gino features references to pornography and masturbation, according to The New York Times.

The West Whiteland parent, who asked that his name not be used, told the West Chester Area School Board about the book and his concerns at a Jan. 24 meeting.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Is this book OK,’” the dad said. “I opened it and began flipping through the pages and began noticing things.” The main character, a fourth-grade boy named George, wanted to be a girl. He takes pills to block male hormones, begins to wear girls’ underwear and clothes, and uses the girls’ bathroom.

“Why would an adult, a teacher, give her a book like this?” he asked. “I told her to take it back and ask for another book. The second book, about a young Black boy in Harlem who was bullied by White boys and called the N-word, the father told the Delaware Valley Journal. “What is the teacher’s agenda?”

He contacted the superintendent and principal before speaking at the school board meeting. Because of other incidents, he is concerned about the direction the district is headed in. He said two different teachers asked his older daughter about being vaccinated in front of her classmates, a violation of medical privacy. Also, a homeroom teacher refused to have the class recite the Pledge of Allegiance and a student on his daughter’s bus told other students that America should be communist.

“This is what kids are talking about today,” he said.

“I’m asking for a policy that limits a teacher’s ability to promote or discuss any hot topics in the classroom,” he told the school board. And if a teacher does not comply, there should be consequences, he said.

Another West Whiteland resident, Mike Winterode, also spoke to the board. He had compiled a list of more than 70 books that discuss various transgender and LGBTQ topics, sometimes in clinical detail, which are in the middle and high school libraries. Winterode mentioned “George” as well.

“Scientists specializing in brain development have confirmed that the portions of the brain that evaluate risk and make informed decisions are among the last to mature, usually not until the early twenties,” said Winterorde. “With that in mind, I can think of few decisions that require a fully developed, mature brain than deciding to change one’s gender. Which is why I find it troubling that there are books currently in our middle school libraries that promote changing gender before puberty.”

Another book Winterode mentioned was “Pet,’ a crime-fighting novel by Akwaeke Emez. In it, “The main character decided at age three that he was a girl. At age 10, he was implanted with puberty blockers, and at 13 given hormones that made his hips widen and breasts grow. Surely, all necessary details for a crime-fighting novel. This book is currently available in all three middle school libraries,” he said.

“Most parents are unaware that these books exist in our middle school libraries. They deserve an explanation as to why their children are being exposed to this kind of material at such a vulnerable age,” said Winterode.

Other area parents, including some in Radnor, have raised similar complaints about the contents of the school libraries.

The board did not respond to the men’s comments or discuss the topic at the meeting.

However, district communications manager Molly Schwember said the district takes their concerns seriously and works with parents and guardians.

“As affirmed in the Library Bill of Rights of the American Library Association and outlined in district policy 109.1AG1, we also take seriously our responsibility to help our students grow into informed and responsible citizens through free access to a comprehensive collection of materials that are representative and considerate of varied interests, abilities, and maturity,” she said in an emailed response.

Under the district’s policies, “parents and guardians are able to review existing instructional materials and submit a complaint form requesting the reconsideration of the use of a book in our schools. The process for responding to and making final decisions on any complaints received is outlined in District policy 906AG1. The district has responded to all existing complaints of this nature thus far, and has taken the necessary actions deemed appropriate following the review and recommendation process,” she said.

“In all areas, the district is committed to being responsive to new information and questions, and these policies guide us in our process for addressing any formal complaints received as well as the initial selection of books to be included within our schools,” she said.

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NASCIMENTO: Dumbing Down Education Hurts Kids and the Country


As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Once again, across the country and here in the Delaware Valley, school aged children are being forced into virtual learning. And once again, it’s the very districts that can least afford to have their children outside of the classroom that are most impacted.

We know from experience that children do best when they are in the classroom; we also know from the COVID virtual experience that we all just lived through that there are many secondary impacts to children beyond being behind in learning. Many of our children are being unfairly burdened with mental, behavioral and health impacts due to prolonged time out of the classroom.

At the same time, school districts and local leaders across the country are deliberately pushing the “dumbing down” of America in the name of equity. From the principal in Minnesota that is eliminating failing grades, to the (thankfully) former mayor of NYC who unilaterally eliminated the city’s Gifted and Talented program, the very foundation of our education is under attack from those entrusted with its success. Just this week, I saw notice of the Methacton School District waiving midterms and finals for all classes this year – a dangerous trend.

In truth, all these actions hurt the very children that they propose to help. Pushing a child on to the next grade because we don’t give out “F”s is not “equitable.” It is, in fact, leaving them unprepared for the future challenges that they will face.

We’ve also previously seen the Attorney General of the United States, without documenting any specific threats, taking an unprecedented step to issue a memo likening parents attending school board meetings to domestic terrorists. All while a company founded and run by his son-in-law does work for various school districts across the country on the very topics that many of their parents are emotional about.

As a former school board president, I can speak from experience on how heated school board meetings can get when there is a topic that the community is passionate about, and no topics arouse passion more than those that affect people’s children. But parents must be made to be partners in the decisions that impact their children’s future.

Whether a child goes onto college, grad school, the military, or a trade, what they lean in primary school is foundational to their success, and to the success of our nation. Cheating them on an honest assessment on what and how they learn and cheating their parents out of their rightful and appropriate involvement, is cheating an entire country.

The Constitution is silent on education; it leaves these matters to the localities. However, when the federal government threatens and the local government abdicates its responsibilities, then Congress must act to ensure that future generations are educated properly. This can be done by passing legislation that calls for minimum standards in grading and curriculum in order to receive federal funding. Congress can also finally pass meaningful legislation to provide school choice to millions of families across the country.

From national security to economic prosperity, there is no greater challenge facing us today that the education of our children. As Jefferson has been quoted, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

 

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