A Rebuttal

Posted 7/28/21

Perhaps to many readers’ surprise, I thought Calvin Tucker’s missive against me in last week’s edition was fair game.

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A Rebuttal

Posted

Perhaps to many readers’ surprise, I thought Calvin Tucker’s missive against me in last week’s edition was fair game.

More specifically, I feel that elected officials should be held to account and be transparent with their words and actions. I’m sure that Mr. Tucker, the esteemed deputy chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party, would agree.

And in the spirit of transparency, it is worth mentioning that I am an asset-poor, middle class Black man who is in the sixth generation of college graduates in my family where education has been tied directly to service for three centuries. But despite this proud tradition, I live in a nation in which as an African American, my household financial wealth is roughly a nickel for every dollar of wealth my white counterparts have with a similar educational and income profile.

It is also worth mentioning that as a state lawmaker, the aggressively expensive tuition for my two children to attend Quaker schools is more than my entire salary. Thus, I can (barely) afford the debt load, but certainly not the tuition. It would seem Mr. Tucker sought to portray me as a limousine liberal who can cut big checks for his kids’ education while caring little beyond lip service about poor children whose parents don’t have the luxury of going broke like me to send their children to good schools.

Apparently, researching where my eldest child just graduated from and where he’s off to college in the fall represented the entirety of his research, which I hasten to add, he sought fit to share with the Local’s readers. Interestingly, he thought it was germane to mention the specific name of my son’s high school, but shared no details to support his argument.

He emphasized what he believed was my hypocrisy sending my eldest child to a Quaker school, yet voting no on a Republican bill that would have increased funding for tax credits to wealthy individuals and businesses in the name of selective expansion of educational opportunity, and voting no on the last state budget that achieved similar ends.

Why would l vote for either bill as the author of a House resolution demanding greater accountability, transparency and equity in the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) which he lauds despite this program’s opacity? 

Why would I vote for a budget that snubbed billions of dollars of federal relief? 

How is the Republican-controlled state legislature’s choice to not use $7 billion earmarked for Pennsylvania in American Rescue Plan aid fair or responsible?

It would have been fair and proper if Mr. Tuckers’ op/ed derided politicians for claiming to be pro-choice regarding schools, but who opposed abortion rights. I have many colleagues in Harrisburg for whom that would have been an accurate assessment.

It would have been a fair critique if I sent my children to a private school that discriminated against families by denying access to LGBTQIA+ students – or non-public schools who embraced intentionally whitewashed curricula too delicate to acknowledge our nation was built on stolen land with stolen labor with operations subsidized by public dollars. 

Alas, Mr. Tucker could not level such attacks on me — even if his politics were genuine and humane enough to do so. Instead, Mr. Tucker thought the fair and balanced move was insult the Local’s readers intellect by implying my personal choice as a parent was at odds with my values as a public servant.

The reality is the politically popular, but deeply problematic EITC program only offers up to $8,500 in financial aid per student as facilitated by tax credits to businesses who donate to third party scholarship organizations. 

While this may make a difference to some families (who are by no means at or near the poverty line), no poor or working-class parents would get enough from EITC scholarships to afford sending their kids to the fancy private schools Mr. Tucker so deftly described in his op/ed.

His alternative facts didn’t include the inconvenient truth of structural inequities my fair funding bill (HB 500) for public education directly addresses.  Whereas he sees fit to use taxpayers’ wallets as an ATM for wealthy interests seeking more tax incentives, I will continue to fight to end the long era of education apartheid in our state where, based on rigorous research of my constituent David Mosenkis of POWER Interfaith, the single most influential factor to determine the amount of state dollars that go to a school district is whiteness. That’s right, you read correctly: the whiter the school district, the more likely that school district will get a larger proportion of state education dollars.

Indeed, this little nugget was left out of Mr. Tucker’s missive.  

Not a word about full and fair funding of our public schools in his impassioned screed.

It seems only fair to highlight that Mr. Tucker’s critique of me would tie fairness and quality education for all to our state’s constitutional imperative to provide for a “thorough and efficient” education system, a directive that has never been truly honored in our commonwealth for families who live in the wrong zip codes and who inhabit the wrong bodies. But Mr. Tucker’s Republican Party cannot acknowledge this reality because it would affirm the existence of structural inequality.

Of course, naysayers will decry my three-term effort to codify fair funding of public schools as nothing more than hollow politicking. Yet, as our state finally sits on an unplanned infusion of $10 billion (that the Republican majority state legislature rejected), my legislation -- oft-discounted by conservative skeptics as a pipe dream -- could have become a reality that would have finally end the generations-long era of education apartheid.

Fair is as fair does. And it is responsible and intellectually dishonest to put forth an argument for increasing educational opportunity when your true motive is to stump for more tax incentives for the rich to benefit only an incrementally larger percentage of children in need. What of the vast majority of children who attend inequitably funded schools who could overnight receive thousands of dollars more per student to have access to an array of essential resources that so many kids in private and well-funded public schools take for granted?

My conscience for sending my kids to schools that are in alignment with my family’s values. And those values simultaneously align around the fight for fully and fairly funded public schools, better wages for teachers and staff, and safe and healthy school buildings across every district.

Rep. Chris Rabb
200th Legislative District (Philadelphia County)
Pennsylvania General Assembly

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