Why would a candidate for Pennsylvania treasurer weigh in on school choice? 

May 24 – In last month’s Pennsylvania primary, the Democrats voted in Erin McClellan to run against Republican incumbent Stacy Garrity for treasurer this November. 

Recently McClellan did an interview with Dennis Owens of ABC 27 where she said as treasurer she would be getting involved in issues that some people aren’t too sure fall under the purview of treasurer. 

For instance, McClellan is against school vouchers and if they are passed, since the treasurer would have to write the voucher, she claims she would fight it through every court necessary. 

PA Representative Paul Schemel said, “This is something we should all look for when we’re exploring different people running for office. Do they understand the role of the office? Legislators are policymakers. Legislators decide what should be done. The executive branch, the governor or the president, he executes or she executes those things. Then all of these row officers and that’s what a treasurer is, the Treasurer writes the checks for the Commonwealth. So the legislature decides what’s going to be funded. The Treasurer then funds that, but here candidate McClellan, the Democratic candidate for treasurer has said you know what? If the legislature passes vouchers, and the governor signs that law, I’m not going to write those voucher checks, because she thinks that it’s a bad policy. She didn’t run for legislature, she didn’t run for governor. She’s running for treasurer, and she’s saying I’m not going to do what the governor and the legislature tell me my job is to do. So that is more than a red flag. That is someone who wants to use the power of their office to do something that constitutionally they cannot.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “I can’t help but think of these AGs that are going around finding crimes for people they vowed to find crimes against when they were running for office. That’s not their job either. We see so much of this today and it worries me because it also worries me that voters don’t have a great understanding of what we’re supposed to be electing people for.”

Schemel said, “People want to be action oriented, so we want to see, oh, if we’re going to elect someone to an office, we want to see that they’re going to do active things. But we have to keep in mind what the office is that they’re seeking. So if you’re seeking attorney general, district attorney, what is the role that they’re supposed to fulfill? That might not be as active as we want. So if we have all these policy thoughts, things that politically we want to happen, we might want them to happen, but for each of those elected offices, that might not be the role to make that happen. The Attorney General does not make law. So if you want something changed in the law, you don’t look to the Attorney General to do that. You look to the legislature and the governor to do that, or the Congress and the President to do that.”

Jansen added, “Even more frightening is when we hear judge candidates proclaiming activism. Once we lose the judiciary on top of everything else, I don’t know what else we have left. That’s not a true free society when you have authoritarianism going on through abusing your role in these positions.”

Schemel said, “In Pennsylvania, since we elect our judiciary, which honestly is not the norm in many other states, but since we elect our judiciary in Pennsylvania, there actually are tight rules where they’re not supposed to take stands on policy matters, but they often do and they often do because they know voters want to see them do that. Are you this? Are you like that? Are you in favor of this? Are you in favor of that? One time in a question/answer session I heard Judge Antonin Scalia, the former Supreme Court justice, say on a number of policy issues, he said, I’ll follow the Constitution. It might not be what I personally want to happen.”

Jansen said, “That’s what we would love to hear, what we should want to hear. But I wish voters were better educated to understand what they should be hearing. Maybe it’s as much or more the education of the voters’ fault as it is anything else.”

Schemel said, “People running for office will respond to what they think voters want. So it is incumbent on us as voters to be educated in what those roles are, and make sure that we’re demanding of candidates that they follow whatever those roles are, and not trying to ask them to do things that they’re not supposed to do.”

Jansen said, “I had to laugh when I heard the commentator speaking to this candidate for treasury saying well you’re not following the lead of Josh Shapiro. I’m sorry. Excuse me, what lead? He mentioned it when he was running for governor of Pennsylvania, mentioning vouchers and his desire to help push that along. But I don’t see that at all. In fact, I have to ask you, because when I’m hearing and seeing when it comes to the budget, he’s saying, well, yeah, that voucher is important and funding education is important here. You guys take it and he’s not being a leader in my opinion.”

Schemel noted, “Well, we guys took it last time and he took it out of the budget. So, more than not being a leader, he’s actually stood in the way, he’s been the barrier that has prevented lifeline scholarships from occurring in Pennsylvania. I’m not a union basher, but he’s very beholden to the union and the amount of money that comes into political coffers from that agency and the same thing with McClelland running for treasurer. It’s no surprise that AFSCME and a couple other large unions endorsed her the day before she made those comments about lifeline scholarships.”

The lifeline scholarship program as it was presented would have gone to the worst performing schools in Pennsylvania and given students a chance to go to a school of their choice. 

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM quipped, “How could there even be the worst performing schools in Pennsylvania for goodness sake, especially in Philadelphia with all the money and all the resources and all the king’s men and all the horses? There shouldn’t be the worst performing schools at all given that you get money every year and it goes up every year. How could that be?”

Schemel said, “One of the Senators, a Democratic Senator from the city of Philadelphia when lifelines came up, he said look, I know my party’s against this, but constituents in my community, they need help and money is not the answer. We’ve thrown lots of money at the education system here and that doesn’t seem to be the answer.”

Jansen added, “And for her to call that a band aid, no, no, no. That’s actually getting to the root, Ms. McClellan, of the problem there and you all don’t seem to be trying to get to those roots at all. You keep yammering about equity, which is only lowering standards and not helping kids to actually become better educated. I’m just so frustrated.”

Schemel said, “Quite candidly, this is something that we promote, the legislators here in this community promote a lot, lifeline scholarships. It does not benefit any of our constituents. Our public schools are excellent. We’re not in the bottom 15%. We have good public schools that families can feel confident going to and there are other options if they don’t want to go to public schools. This doesn’t benefit us. We don’t care about this because it benefits our students. We care about it because it benefits fellow Pennsylvanians that are trapped in systems in places far from us that they cannot get out of.”

Ryan insisted, “Let the money follow the child and let’s have some competition.”

Jansen said, “We’re only talking about right now the most failing schools in Pennsylvania, where it won’t take a dime from public school at all, to give these kids an opportunity. These kids are failing and they’re failing right now and so for (McClellan) to call this a band aid when this is the actual heart of what’s wrong in the public schools and most pointedly in the worst of the worst here in Pennsylvania to not offer those families a choice. Shame on her. I mean, what a shill, just caving in to the unions, to the teachers union and people who really I’m sorry, teachers union, not the teachers, the teachers union, who don’t give a darn about these kids. Where’s their solution? They’ve had decades and that schools are just getting worse. It just really bothers me that she called it a band aid when changing that philosophy of how we handle education is the cure.” 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “Bigger picture, I have some real questions about this lady. She won in the primary. Remember, it was a huge upset. The party was not supporting her party leadership, and she won by a big margin. She has nothing to do with school choice as the State Treasurer. I mean, this would be no different if she came out espousing any other number of programs. I mean the treasurer, that’s not part of her portfolio and Stacey Garrity, I see did issue a response kind of saying what I am, staying in your lane. This isn’t something that the treasurer is involved in and it just makes me wonder, does this lady not understand the role of the state treasurer? Her interview, she seems to suggest that she would be involved with the General Assembly and the governor in crafting some of these issues. It’s very puzzling to me because as a voter maybe I’d be interested in knowing where these people stand on issues, but that’s squarely not within their role as the state treasurer.”