Broad Coalition from Across State Led By Williams Demand Opportunity for Quality Education

Philadelphia-January 28, 2010 – Invoking the language and passion of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, hundreds of students, parents, community activists and state legislators rallied in Harrisburg Tuesday for school choice and loudly voiced their support for Senate Bill 1, the Opportunity Scholarship Act co-sponsored by Sens. Anthony H. Williams (D-Phila./Delaware County) and Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin/York).

The crowd, which reflected the racial and geographic diversity of the state, had a clear message to deliver to those that oppose school choice, “My child, my choice,” which they enthusiastically chanted throughout the rally.

“Those that oppose school choice argue they need more time and more money to fix failing schools,” said Williams, who has been a leading voice for school choice for more than 20 years. “I say, 50 years and $25 billion is enough! They say school choice will take money from failing schools, I say close the failing schools!”

The rally, part of a weeklong series of events for National School Choice Week, was held at the Capitol Rotunda and was organized by several organizations, including Students First, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the REACH Foundation and the American Federation for Children.

SB-1, which was officially introduced shortly after the rally, will initially provide scholarships to low-income students in the state’s worst performing schools. The scholarship would allow them to attend a public, private, parochial or public charter school of their choice. Senate hearings on the SB-1 are scheduled for Feb. 16 in Harrisburg.

Piccola, the primary sponsor of SB-1, who first introduced a school choice bill 16 years ago, challenged the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) to “let my people go.”

“We are ready to challenge any and all that oppose freedom, that oppose choice,” said Piccola. “I am old enough to remember the 1960s when a man named George Wallace stood in the school door to keep students out of good schools, why would anyone stand in the door in the 2000s to keep students in failing schools? Let them go! Let my people go!”

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, speaking on behalf of Gov. Tom Corbett stated, “Today we start that process of putting children first in Pennsylvania. We need to be open and to promote charter schools, we need to be open and to promote cyber schools, we need to empower home schooling and yes we need school choice. This bipartisan gathering of so many, many Pennsylvanians serves as a tribute and serves as a testament to the fact that the time for an educational revolution in Pennsylvania has come.”

Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, acting superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, stated “One thing is clear to me — parents care more about their child’s education than anyone else and they are the ultimate accountability standard. Parents and children are consumers of education and they should be free to choose the educational product that works best for their child. This opportunity should be afforded to all parents no matter what economic level they are characterized in. Senate Bill 1 is the beginning of the journey towards resolving this issue by providing a choice for low-income families that want to send their child to a school that best fits his or her needs. I stand ready to work with Senators Piccola and Williams in supporting this landmark legislation.”

During the rally, Sens. LeAnna Washington (D-4th) and Mike Stack (D-5th) agreed to co-sponsor the landmark legislation. Washington, a previous opponent of the bill, said it was not about her, summoning two students to join her at the podium.

Washington said, “This is about them. This is about the future.” I support parent’s choice for students, I support children first.” The support of these two key Democrats bodes well for the bill’s passage.

During National School Choice Week, school choice advocates across the nation united to shine a spotlight on effective education options for every child. National School Choice Week was created to raise awareness about all forms of educational choice, including charter schools, independent schools, magnet schools, and home schooling, and the need for an effective educational system that offers parents the freedom to choose their children’s education. Over 150 organizations, leading policymakers, and opinion leaders participated, including the Center for Education Reform, American Federation for Children, Alliance for School Choice, Children’s Scholarship Fund, Association of American Educators, Foundation for Excellence in Education, and many more.

School Choice Week isn’t about raising one education model above others or doing away with public schools, but about reforming the system so that every parent has the power to choose the education that fits their individual child.

For more information about Senate Bill 1 or Senator Anthony H. Williams, please visit