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WCASB Shoots Down Valley Forge Charter (Again); Now Lawmakers Seek Reforms

The West Chester Area School Board voted 7-0 Monday to reject a proposed charter school, Valley Forge Classical Academy, the second time the WCAB turned down its application.

The state legislature is now looking into changes to the charter school law that may make it easier for new charter schools to form in the face of opposition from officials and union groups who portray these school choice options as harmful to traditional public schools.

Guy Ciarrocchi, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools board member and former Chesco Chamber of Business and Industry CEO, decried the decision.

“Sadly, the West Chester School Board did what too many school boards do in Pennsylvania. They rejected competition; they rejected giving parents a choice. Taxpayers who support giving children access to quality schools, empowering parents, and competition should be rooting for Valley Forge as they appeal this decision. If they win, everyone wins.”

The Commonwealth Foundation’s education policy analyst Rachel Langan said, “The state could make charter schools more accessible by easing requirements to set up a charter school, allowing the tax dollars to follow the student and making the charter appeal board more charter-friendly.”

And she pointed out what school choice advocates say is the absurdity of the current system for getting public charter schools approved. She compared it to Wegman’s grocery store chain needing approval from a competitor, Acme, to move in next door.

“Imagine if Wegmans also had to secure a location for their store without knowing if Acme would support it. That’s costly and risky—and essentially represents the current charter approval process. If denied, Wegmans loses money and must appeal. If the proposal is approved, Acme must pay Wegmans each time a customer shops at Wegmans instead of Acme.

“This doesn’t make sense for a grocery store, and it doesn’t make sense for schools, either,” Langan said. “Why would a school district choose this model? The model is flawed and needs to be changed.”

The Commonwealth Foundation is the state’s free-market think tank.

State Sen. Dave Argall (R-Carbon/Schuylkill), who chairs the education committee, said the House and Senate are trying to change the charter school law. A year ago, he brought together interested parties to discuss issues, from charter schools, cyber charters, public schools, the teachers’ union, and the association representing public school business officials.

“I joked at one point it was like bringing Cowboys fans and Eagles fans into the same room,” said Argall. “They have some things in common, but they have very strong differences.”

And with a Democratic-run House, a Democratic governor, and a Republican-led Senate, there have to be compromises. He said he believes small changes can be made at first.

“We need to do a better job of helping the school boards pay some of the costs of charters,” said Argall. “We should look at how schools are reimbursed for special needs (students).”

“You know it’s going to be painful,” he continued. “You know it’s going to be complicated. But I think there is a basic consensus that we should try.”

“A lot of us strongly support school choice,” he said.

School choice supporters held a rally at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Supporters of the Valley Forge Classical Academy plan to appeal to the state Charter School Board. They are collecting signatures from supporters so they can file that appeal.

The district issued a statement saying the application did not meet the district’s standards or the state’s standards.

“We know that our community, our students, thrive on high-quality educational experiences and programs,” said Karen Fleming, president of the WCASB. “While we recognize the Valley Forge Classical Academy’s enthusiasm for student enrichment, the revised application and district evaluation still demonstrate the proposed charter school’s inability to meet the caliber of education our community and our state expect.”

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Hispanic Republican Coalition of Pennsylvania Courts Lawmakers in Harrisburg

Grassroots organizers and activists with the Hispanic Republican Coalition of Pennsylvania (HRCP) recently gathered in Harrisburg meet with legislators and hold a fundraiser.  Their message: Latino voters are willing to vote GOP but the party has to GOTV. (Get Out The Vote)

“It was very successful,” said Chair Jennie Dallas, a business owner from Dauphin County. Members from around the state attended.

“The amount of support our organization has received in Harrisburg from our elected representatives and state senators is overwhelming,” Dallas said. “Our coalition is energized and excited to move forward vigorously to win over Hispanic voters in the state of Pennsylvania, a group that Republicans must engage in order to win elections locally and statewide. We are proud to have elected officials like Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, Sen. David Argall, Sen. Scott Martin, Sen. Ryan Aument, state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, as well as a number of other elected officials and candidates for office who are supporting our movement.”

Sen. David Argall receives the “El Jefe” award from HRCP Chair Jennie Dallas and consultant Albert Eisenberg, for his leadership in helping share the GOP message with Pennsylvania’s right-trending Hispanic communities.

Ward spoke to the gathering, and Argall received an award for his leadership and support of efforts to appeal to Hispanic communities in Pennsylvania.

“With more Latinos calling Pennsylvania home, it is important that we work alongside the Latino community, as they are the fastest growing population in the commonwealth,” said Ward (R-Westmoreland).

Argall (R-Carbon/Luzerne/Schuylkill), who chairs the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said, “We, as Republicans, need to reach out to all people. If we truly want to represent everyone, this is an important constituency that deserves our attention and support. I’m honored to receive the award from the Hispanic Republican Coalition of Pennsylvania.”

During the 2022 election cycle, the coalition was the only group to run radio and billboard ads in Spanish to support the Republican ticket, spending in the high five figures, said Albert Eisenberg, a political strategist with BlueStateRed, who is working with the HRCP.

“Hispanic voters in Pennsylvania are crying out to hear a GOP message as they are facing the reality of Democratic rule in communities across the commonwealth (including) increases in petty and violent crime in their communities, stagnation in public schools and weird social issues injected into the classroom, and stalling economic opportunity,” said Eisenberg. “The Hispanic Republican Coalition of Pennsylvania is doing the work that the GOP has needed to do for decades, and we are proud of our growing support at both the grassroots and elected levels.”

The Spanish language ads ran in the most heavily Hispanic regions in the state, including parts of Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.  Areas where the ads ran were the “only areas [in the state] that did not shift to the Left,” said Eisenberg.

In recent years, many Hispanics have moved from New York and settled in parts of Pennsylvania, especially the Lehigh Valley, where crime is lower, and there are jobs in logistics and agriculture.

He noted that the values of the Republican party, including patriotism, prosperity, strong families, and the American dream, resonate with Hispanics.

Republicans just need to reach out to them, he said.

Sen. Kim Ward (right) speaks to the Hispanic Republican Coalition as Chair Jennie Dallas looks on.

“These are working-class voters who’ve been left behind by the Democrats and haven’t heard from Republicans yet,” he said.  Republican ideas are “really compelling to conservative-leaning people and will bring them to the table.”

Dallas agreed, saying that grassroots volunteers will be doing just that this year, “working our grassroots,” talking to and registering Hispanic voters.

She added, “Our biggest focus will be n our grassroots and building our volunteer base.”

The Hispanic voting trend toward the GOP is a nationwide phenomenon, with former President Donald Trump winning 29 percent of Hispanic voters in 2016 and 32 percent in 2020, although the majority of Latino voters remain Democrats. And last year Mayra Flores (R-Texas) because the first Republican to win a Congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley in 151 years. She is also the first Mexican-born woman in Congress.

“The future of the Republican Party was pictured at our event: a diverse, working-class party that reaches regular people across Pennsylvania and responds to their needs,” Eisenberg said. “I could not be more excited and proud to ‘be the change’ in conceiving and launching this group last year and continuing the needed work in the cycles ahead.”

“We’re trying to create infrastructure that doesn’t exist in the state, but exists in Florida and Texas, to flip the state House back,” said Eisenberg. Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Pennsylvania House.

“It’s really needed. If we can get the word out, we can do a lot in 2023 and ’24,” he added.

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Fetterman Still Absent From State Senate Duties

Where is the big guy when you need him?

That’s what state senators on the State Government Committee are asking about Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Committee members seeking to rewrite the 1974 law detailing what happens when the governor or lieutenant governor is disabled hoped to hear from him. Fetterman, who is also the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, did not respond to a letter from that committee asking for his input. Fetterman went on leave after suffering a stroke in April.

Fetterman originally notified the General Assembly he was disabled and unable to perform his duties when he had surgery to implant a defibrillator and pacemaker. He has since sent notification that he was no longer disabled after the statutory six days, said state Sen. David Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill).

The committee, chaired by Argall, held a hearing on the topic on July 14. But Fetterman was a no-show.

In a letter, Argall asked Fetterman to give his input by Aug. 1, allowing the committee to move forward with possible changes to the law, which is so antiquated that it mentions telegrams.

“Your perspective on this issue would be very instructive to our committee’s review of this issue,” Argall wrote. “Specifically, we would like to know more about what procedures your office followed in terms of notifying the Governor’s Office in the immediate aftermath of your hospitalization on May 13, including the timing and means of notification. This information is subject to the state’s Right to Know Law, but I hope you would provide this information voluntarily in the interest of full transparency in advance of any testimony you may provide.

“We would also be interested to learn whether your condition during your period of hospitalization warranted the disability procedures being invoked at that time. You were quoted in news reports as saying you almost died, which speaks to the gravity of the situation. In addition, given your unique perspective on this matter, your recommendations on how the law could be improved would be welcomed and appreciated,” Argall wrote.

In a recent interview, Argall told DVJ he had not heard back from Fetterman.

Although he offered Fetterman the option of talking to the committee over Zoom instead of in person and they asked Fetterman to pick the date or place. Still no response.

“We were being very, very accommodating,” said Argall.

Fetterman’s chief of staff, Christina Kauffman, did not respond to a DVJ request for comment or explanation. And as of this writing, Fetterman has not returned to his duties as state Senate president, “as is his constitutional duty,” Argall said.

Fetterman was “missing for 18 days of voting at the height of our budget season,” said Argall.

It was unclear if Fetterman had attended the June Board of Pardons meeting, which he chairs as part of his responsibility as lieutenant governor. Argall said those meetings are no longer on video, which is “a serious concern.”

But the Senate committee did hear from former Acting Gov. Mark Singel, who took over for then Gov. Robert Casey Sr. in June 1993 when Casey underwent a heart and liver transplant.

“My recollection of that moment in Pennsylvania history is that there was a reasonable amount of good faith and bipartisanship in both the executive and legislative branches that made the transition possible,” Singel wrote.

He believes the statute does not need to be changed.

“The language in the constitution and in the statutes is, in my opinion, sufficient to ensure a peaceful transition of power should either the governor or lieutenant governor become disabled. Additional requirements like establishing reporting timelines on notifications or other alterations would only add to the stress of what is, by definition, a challenging time for the public officials involved and for the Commonwealth itself.

“I would caution against ‘fixing’ a process that does not seem to be broken,” Singel said.

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), the committee’s co-chair, said Fetterman gave notice of his absence and “the process is working.”

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