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GIORDANO: Compromise on Norristown Homeless Encampment is Example for State Budget Impasse

I’m glad that PECO will clear a homeless encampment on its property in Norristown after a battle between Norristown Council President Tom Lepera and a Villanova professor advocating for the homeless. Lepera threatened to bus encampment residents to Villanova.

All parties involved called the current relocation plan “respectful.” It involves posting signs in August that will alert people on the property that they must move within 45 days. I feel this is a fair and generous compromise.

I also believe a fair, generous compromise was reached in Harrisburg between Gov. Josh Shapiro and Pennsylvania Senate Republicans that massively increased funding for public schools and included a voucher program of $100 million to be used by parents of kids in the lowest-performing 15 percent of public schools.

State Rep. Greg Scott, who represents Norristown in the legislature, released a statement that said, “I’m happy that our school districts will see a boost from the budget’s $617 million increase for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.” He was very happy that Norristown schools would get an 18.5  percent increase in state funding over last year.

So, Norristown parents could send their kids to a district with huge added resources or send their kids to a private school with the new voucher money since Norristown is clearly among the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools in the state. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, only 6-9 percent of students in the Norristown Schools are proficient in reading. That should shock any parent and make them consider an alternative like the voucher program.

However, that statistic apparently doesn’t shock Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Bradford. According to his profile, he represents a district near Norristown and was an interim administrator for the Borough of Norristown from 2004 to 2005. He is very familiar with the problems of the Norristown Area School District, yet he was the person who blocked the compromise between Gov. Shapiro and Senate Republicans on education funding.

Bradford is clearly the darling of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (teachers’ union) and seems to take pride in being the face of opposition to school choice. He is not only blocking choice in Norristown but in suburban districts like Bristol Township, Morrisville, Chester-Upland, Southeast Delco, Upper Darby, William Penn, and Pottstown.

On my radio show, Senate President Kim Ward nailed him as the key person blocking the compromise on school funding that would have greatly helped kids in school districts across the state. Bradford has even babbled a defense that the vouchers would only benefit a small number of kids. My counter is to say, then let’s increase the voucher funding.

This battle is still ongoing, and the state has not adopted a budget, which was due June 30. Ward told me Republicans won’t sign off on a budget unless the vouchers program is included. Bradford also knows if he allows a vote with the vouchers program in the budget, multiple Democrats in key districts will vote for it.

These school choice programs are often billed as just a plot by Republicans to attack progressive-controlled big cities like Philadelphia. Take a look at all the underperforming suburban districts that I listed. There are also dozens of rural districts across Pennsylvania that would benefit greatly.

Let’s tell Matt Bradford it’s time for the respect and compromise we saw in the homeless settlement in Norristown. Let’s think of vouchers as a dignified relocation program for kids.

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