A press conference called for education union officials and Democratic state lawmakers to blast Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano’s education plan became anything but ordinary Thursday, Sept. 15, when many Mastriano supporters turned up to shout, heckle and interrupt the proceedings.
At the event held just outside the Chancellor Center — the Council Rock School District’s administrative center — in Newtown Borough, speakers including Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey struggled to make themselves heard amidst an almost constant stream of shouts from Mastriano supporters.
Mastriano, a state senator opposing Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro for governor, has been criticized since stating in a radio interview with NRTA in Altoona that he favored reducing per-student spending for Pennsylvania public schools from an annual average of more than $19,000 down to just $9,000 to $10,000. He supports taking the leftover funds and moving them into separate accounts parents could use to send their children to any school they want, including charter and religious schools.
A PSEA analysis claims that would devastate the state’s public education system, resulting in an estimated $12.75 billion cut in school funding, 118,704 jobs lost in the state’s public schools and a 109 percent increase in the student-to-teacher ratio.
“It’s hard to imagine how schools would even function,” Askey said.
“These cuts would be devastating,” added Council Rock Education Association President Mark Dolan. “And we would feel it right here in Council Rock.”
Mastriano supporters responded with shouts of “My child, my choice” and similar slogans. Mastriano and Shapiro supporters confronted each other and argued face to face, but there was no physical violence. Some police officers were on hand to make sure things didn’t go too far.
“We just want fair education,” said Solebury Township Republican Committeeman Keith Wolff, one of many carrying “Mastriano for Governor” signs. Others carried signs criticizing his education plan.
“These are the people who shut down our schools during Covid,” Wolff added. “In Florida, they didn’t do that and they did fine.”
His wife and fellow Republican Nancy Wolff agreed.
“We’ve never been political and have voted for whoever we felt would do best,” she said. “He (Mastriano) wants school choice. He wants parents included. They (Mastriano opponents) want to dictate to our kids and not be transparent.”
In a hastily arranged second press conference held just outside Council Rock’s Goodnoe Elementary School in neighboring Newtown Township, two Democratic state legislators, Senator Steve Santarsiero and Rep. Perry Warren, reiterated the points against Mastriano’s plan. They organized the second event so that critics of the plan could be heard without being interrupted.
“We’re here in support of fully funding public schools,” Santarsiero said. “The state needs to pick up a larger share of education funding so that the burden doesn’t fall so much on local taxpayers. The proposals by MAGA candidate Mastriano would eviscerate public education in Pennsylvania.”
He added that according to the PSEA analysis, Mastriano’s plan would mean a cut of $111 million for Council Rock, $105 million for Pennsbury, $66 million for Bristol Township and $23 million for New Hope-Solebury, and the loss of about 3,000 public education jobs in Bucks County.
“So many of us live in communities like this because of the high quality of the public schools,” Warren added. “Under a plan like this, the financial burden would fall more and more on local property taxpayers.”
Santarsiero called the raucous nature of the Chancellor Center press conference unfortunate.
“We’ve been doing events like this all week all across Pennsylvania,” added PSEA spokesman Chris Lilienthal. “We certainly believe in free speech, but it would have been nice to see some better manners here today. They have the right to get their message out, but they should have shown better behavior and not tried to scream over teachers and others trying to speak.”