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Big Money Behind Push for "School Choice" in Pennsylvania
FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based group chaired by Dick Armey that does not disclose its corporate funders, has been aggressively promoting a measure in Pennsylvania that would divert taxpayer funds to support religious and private schools. FreedomWorks has hosted town hall meetings, run a state-wide radio ad campaign and organized phone call and letter writing campaigns to support SB1, a measure to phase in a new educational system that would give parents taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for their children to attend private and religious schools. The bill would also increase funding for an existing state program that gives businesses tax credits if they donate to private and religious schools. In addition to FreedomWorks, industry lobbying groups like the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association support the "school choice" measures. A group called Students First, which draws membership from FreedomWorks, recently conducted a "school choice" rally at the state capitol that revealed the group has access to cash and professional organizers. The rally included T-shirts, lunches and posters for hundreds of attendees, and the group uses a professional media adviser and veteran political ad man from Pittsburgh to help organize its events. The Students First PAC, funded by wealthy Philadelphia-area businessmen, first drew media attention after it poured millions of dollars into the campaign of Pennsylvania state senator Anthony Williams, who was running for governor. Williams made school vouchers a cornerstone of his campaign. Williams also co-authored the school voucher bill now before the state Senate.