Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Blog: PA NAACP Speaks Out Against School Voucher Bill

This afternoon, Representative Mike Sturla (D), Chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, held a hearing on SB 1, the bill creating school vouchers in Pennsylvania. While the bill is still in the Senate, the House is starting to look at the impact of this bill on public education in Pennsylvania. Thus the hearing today. One of the speakers at this hearing in Philadelphia was Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn, the Chair of the Education Committee for the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP. The NAACP, as I stated in yesterday’s blog, also opposes school vouchers. I asked Dr. Duvall-Flynn if I could post her testimony on the PA NOW blog; she agreed. PA NOW gives a shout out to her well-rounded and thoughtful presentation on the problems of creating a school voucher program in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
FEBRUARY 22, 2011


The PA State Conference of NAACP Branches appreciates this opportunity to submit remarks to the House Democratic Policy Committee today as we focus on education. It is good for the citizens of the Commonwealth to have this rigorous discussion on “Opportunity Grants” as we call the current vouchers proposal presented in Senate Bill 1 . In truth, this proposed legislation presents us with an important opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental need for universal public education, to evaluate the condition of that system, and to diagnose its needs.

The traditional public school classroom has, since its inception, been the most effective approach to equip the nation’s young for their futures as well to prepare citizens for the overall welfare of our society. It is a place in our society organized with the intent that persons from all cultures and conditions will share time and space with a common purpose; and where children learn to accept and trust others who may differ from them by condition, by ethnicity, or by social standing.

It is in the traditional public school classroom, under the oversight and protection of the State, that the human capacity of our young is best developed to the benefit of a democratic, nonsectarian society.

Currently, state assessment outcomes demonstrate that a number of school districts across the Commonwealth are struggling. We know that these strains have led to this hearing today to discuss policy around using public money to pay tuitions to private and to sectarian schools so that some children may be evacuated from a number of traditional public schools that today are in travail.

In truth, what brings us here today are the deeply rooted inequalities and injustices that exist in the public educational system of Pennsylvania and the policy decisions that give birth to those inequities. That is why, from the perspective of the PA NAACP, this current drive to legislate tuition vouchers is a timely and beneficial event. The push for Senate Bill 1 in the Pennsylvania State Assembly of 2011 makes the inequities in education in Pennsylvania clearly visible and easily understandable and brings them to the table for discussion.

Our specific reactions to this proposed legislation are in the Addendum. We wish to use this public forum to first address the needs of children that are being used to drive the legislation; then to cite our reactions to specific sections of SB 1 seriatim if time allows. We will post this testimony on the PA NAACP State Conference web site for those who wish a copy.

The Problem:

Many stakeholders find it very difficult to acknowledge, to face, and to address the race and socio-economic status inequities within our public schools here in the Pennsylvania. As is made apparent by the introduction of Senate Bill 1, it is much easier to devise escape routes for the children whose parents have the financial means or the political sophistication or support of state policy to abandon troubled schools than it is to correct the inequities that prevail.

Senate Bill 1, in its proposal for tuition vouchers, is an attempt to create an additional evacuation strategy from universal public education and seeks to do so under the obfuscation that forcing the general population to pay for private school education for a select group is a civil rights issue. It allows for and supports the denial that democracy demands our continuous care, concern, attention and commitment.

Government is instituted for the equal protection and benefit of all. Thomas Jefferson, as he proposed our current system, believed that education should be under the control of the government, free from religious biases, and available to all people irrespective of their status in society (Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806).

If the General Assembly believes the condition of the public education system has reached such a state of crisis that it must rescue children from schools because they are in physical danger and because they cannot be educated, then it is not only wrong governmental policy to deny the children who would be left behind in those same schools equal protection of the law; while at the same time, under cover of law, relegating them to permanent second class citizenship; but it is also immoral, reprehensible, and illegal.

For that reason, there is an essential question that must drive policy in the Pennsylvania State Assembly.

Is the solution to the obvious inequities and injustices in the universal public education system of Pennsylvania to ration out chances to vacate the traditional public school classroom; or should the legislature move forward to solutions that yield more equity and justice within the system where most of Pennsylvania’s children go to be educated?

We are all aware of the enormous injections of money into the war against universal public education. The billions of tax payer dollars budgeted to fund the public system has been sufficient motivation to drive this campaign. Not only in Pennsylvania, but across the nation, achievement data derived from State Assessment Systems has been used to make the case that “public education is ‘failing’ ” and that it needs to be dismantled and that education needs to be put into private hands.

In some points of view, traditional public school teachers have been demonized. Nine out of ten of these teachers are women of varying ages. They are mostly white and middle class. Many of them are single heads of household. They joined the profession to help children learn and grow. Yet, the propaganda would have us believe that these daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts and friends arise daily and in hordes, go into schools to ignore their obligations; thus causing students to not score as proficient or advanced on state assessments. However, it goes unmentioned that those who teach at a Charter School or a private school for lower pay, few if any benefits, and no job protections are just as likely to see the same results on student assessments as do teachers in traditional public schools.

In some points of view, unions have been demonized and used as scapegoats. Unions do not hire teachers. They do not supervise teachers. They do not evaluate teachers. School district administrators and supervisors are responsible for these functions. Unions can not circumvent the agreements negotiated with and sanctioned by the school boards elected by tax payers and to whom tax payers have open access. Yet the propaganda would have us believe that unions are the reason many students are not scoring as proficient or advanced on state assessments.

The propaganda machine has demonstrated its tactics at their best while in general, the masses have no voice. The push is to privatize education, lift it from the protective hands of the state, dismantle collective bargaining units, and allow market systems to drive improvement. However, factually, loud and demanding voices notwithstanding, there is no evidence to substantiate the fallacy that market place competition improves educational outcomes.

In the United States we have learned some hard lessons about free markets. History has taught us the dangers of ferocious greed and how the market place will consume, abuse and devourer any commercial target. That is why we have protective agencies to watch over our foods and medicines. That is why a number of Charter Schools are under investigation even today. That is why we know to not turn our children into commodities for competition and purchase – even to great benefactors – who may be looking for their next software market.

You may have noticed that none of the noisome and frantic manipulations designed to access the state coffers and make profit off children as a commodity have addressed honestly the basic question of why some of our children are not learning well in school. As well, there is nothing in SB1, the vouchers proposal, that attempts to identify or correct the conditions that actually burden our children in the classrooms of Pennsylvania’s traditional public schools.

The task of the statesman, at its best, is to find the right balance for the benefit of all the people: to inform, to educate, to advocate. The issue of “choice” is not the civil rights issue here. Parents are not entitled to a check from the state with which to go shopping for their personal preferences.

The General Assembly has the responsibility to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.

The notion of a thorough education has been structured in the United States through normative boundaries since the 1700s and has consistently provided for instruction in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as a core curriculum. To that, based on the changes in and needs of society, are added enhancements. Hence the State Board of Education periodically sets and reviews a scope and sequence of instruction that identifies what students in the public schools of Pennsylvania should know and be able to do in their areas of study at given levels in preparation to meet their own goals and for the general benefit of society. Thus the state insures a thorough education.

It is in the term efficient that we meet the challenge faced here today and in Senate Bill 1. If we mean the satisfactory and economical use of tax payer dollars; or even if we mean performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; then the PA NAACP holds that the vouchers sections of SB1 fail on both connotations as demonstrated in the Addendum.

PA NAACP: Theory

The right to an education belongs to the student. This is the civil rights issue involved in our present discussion. In Walczak v. Florida Union Free School District in 1998 the Court asserts that children are not entitled to the best education that money can buy; they are only entitled to an appropriate education.

In Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Court asserts that: Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The free public education available to many students in Pennsylvania today is not “appropriate”, nor is it available to all on equal terms. It is clear that unless the traditional system of universal public education is stabilized in Pennsylvania, more and more children will be separated from the promise of America and left to live in ignorance, in poverty and with disease.

The improvement, corrective action, and restructuring measures embedded in No Child Left Behind policy was intended to get schools back on track to meet State standards, not to dismantle universal public education (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2002). In the same spirit, the intent of the policy of the Pennsylvania State Assembly must be to address the inequities and injustices in the universal public education system and to correct them in such a way as to get schools back on track.

The Necessary Action:

It is simply just not possible to inequitably distribute teacher quality and track students into or out of programs, like AP or special education, and reasonably expect to achieve equity in achievement or even to achieve progress toward equitable achievement, as is now required in all states (Skria, L. et. al. 2004).

There are causal variables that result in inequity and injustice in Pennsylvania classrooms.

Variable: Teacher Quality Equity

Variable: Programmatic Equity

Variable: Achievement Equity

(Skria, L. et. al. (February 2004))

There are policies and processes that can address these variables that result in inequity and injustice in Pennsylvania classrooms and which will improve student outcomes.

PA NAACP refers the House Democratic Policy Committee to The Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches Agenda for Education in Pennsylvania (2010). The following list summarizes that agenda.

  1. The state must support, through regulation and through funding, strong early childhood education and equity in the provision of instruction, instructional supports and resources.
  2. Language proficiency evaluations must be performed for all students when they enter a school district, restrictive barriers must be removed from access to vocational education programs, and alternative forms of entrance assessments for accelerated and gifted classes must be available for students seeking access to such programs.
  3. Expanded school services that provide education advocates, mentors, service-learning projects, on-site access to health care and on-site access to mental health professionals must be available where needed and adequately staffed and funded.
  4. The social isolation of Pennsylvania’s children must not be perpetuated by law. Consistent with Title VI, Local Education Agencies should not increase school based poverty concentration and racial isolation; nor should state or federal funds be used to create new racially concentrated or high poverty schools.
  5. The eradication of economic inequality is a human rights issue. Withholding the high school diploma from students who have satisfactorily completed a school district course of study exacerbates this inequality. Regulations requiring the withholding of the high school diploma from students who have satisfactorily completed a school district’s course of study must be repealed.
  6. All local education agencies receiving public funds must review discipline records to assess for racial disparities in discipline. Mandated zero tolerance policies must end. Harsh, denigrating language must be removed from legislation concerning the education of children (Flynn, J. (2010)).
  7. Beyond monitoring test scores to measure for AYP or to evaluate improvement in pupil learning:  
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the field through innovations that are shared with other public schools, and which improve professional practice,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on the development of new professional opportunities for teachers,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the variety of educational programs available in the public system,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on contributions to the field in the way of innovative and replicable improvements to the accountability systems,
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on a quantitative atmosphere of flexibility and innovativeness that supersedes that of non-charter, district schools, and
  • Charter schools must be monitored for and assessed on compliance with all laws governing diversity of population.
Not only does PA NAACP call for policy that addresses the inequities and injustices that impact student performance on accountability tests, our young people are crying out for help. For example, Tamara Anderson writing for Examiner.com recently posted the extract below:

Homelessness, aging out of foster care and teen pregnancy are very seldom mentioned when discussions and debates arise about the state of public education. Community organizations and school districts need to work together and create grassroots community based schools. Places that provide medical support, mental health providers, and active partnerships with local businesses for job readiness or professional certificates. http://www.examiner.com/education-in-philadelphia/homelessness-teen-pregnancy-and-foster-care#ixzz1EdGRqiyF.

As well, there are student organizations such as Youth United for Change who have published statistics concerning the drop out crisis and the chaos caused by Zero Tolerance policies. These young people have taken to YouTube with their pleas for help.

SB1 does not address the pressing issues facing education in Pennsylvania today. Pennsylvanians need comprehensive reforms that address the actual needs and conditions of our rural and urban regions. We need reforms based on proven strategies such as the Equity Audits demonstrated in the article by Skria et. al and listed in our references. We need reforms such as called for in the PA NAACP Agenda and listed above.

PA NAACP’s specific concerns with Senate Bill one are attached. Thank you for this opportunity.

FEBRUARY 22, 2011

PA NAACP Concerns with Senate Bill 1 as Statute

SB1 seeks a solution to the struggles of students as they attempt to meet state assessment system measures for proficiency or advanced proficiency. The legislative solution put forth in SB 1 is to create an evacuation strategy for students as opposed to meeting the legislative obligation to create a thorough education and efficient system of education.

In instances when it has spoken on the issue, the Court has found that it is the civil right of each child to have a “free and appropriate public education” The intention of the Court was to guarantee that each child have access to education which is free, which is appropriate for the child, and which is public. While specifically focused on special education, the decision provides a rational framework from which we can draw reasonable assumptions about what we should provide all children.

PA NAACP is concerned that Sections 2503 B; 2504 B, 2505 B, 2506 B, 2507 B and 2508 B are designed with intentions that do not meet the FAPE standard of “free” or “public”, and which potentially will not create access to programs which are “appropriate”.

The PA Constitution, Article 3, Section 14. Public School System

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

Section 2506 B: Amount of Opportunity Scholarship - This section presents questions of efficiency in that –
  1. It decreases the resident school district funds while the local district cost of operation will remain the same
  2. It creates a fund in the State Treasury to pay the cost of a superfluous bureaucracy
  3. It fails to create a substantive formula upon which to base an appropriation amount for 2011 and leaves grants open to potentially 500,000 applications for poor children prekindergarten and up
  4. Section d 2 negates the practicality of the Opportunity Grant in that it pro rates reductions in the grant amount based on the number of applicants
  5. Section f 1, and 2 presupposes that the schools from which Opportunity Grant recipients have fled will not improve –

There is no road back for tax payer funds.

As well, Section 2506 B potentially denies equal opportunities to many receiving schools in that it creates “preference” toward non-public schools that have the resources to provide financial assistance to students.

Section 2507 B: This section creates questions of efficiency in that:

  1. It creates an inefficient payment process with an outdated payment and reimbursement system using checks and mail postage costs; neither of which is necessary and a burden on the public coffers and which creates the possibility for loss of public funds.
  2. It creates an unfunded and costly mandate on already financially overburdened school districts by demanding the creation of forms and notification mailings.
  3. It fails to address the multiple language translation needs of parents in district most immediately and directly effected by the legislation and who meet the eligibility guidelines.

As well, 2507 c and d create an impenetrable system that appears to result in taxation without access to representation.

Section 2508 B: This section creates a question of efficiency in that:

It further weakens the local school district by removing necessary funds.

Section 2509 B: This section creates a question of efficiency in that:

The general practice for research is to pilot major programs on a limited basis to evaluate their effectiveness, to decide on their practicality, and to make internal adjustments prior to disrupting major systems. Given the 500,000 reported children who live in poverty in Pennsylvania, passage of SB 1 could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, including the cost of the study suggested by this section, and yet prove to be impractical and unsustainable.

Section 2512 B: This section creates concerns in its possible impact on the question of a thorough education in that:

It creates a mechanism for districts to deport difficult students into alternative environments, which may not have programs that meet their needs or be to the best advantage of society.

Section 2522 B: This section creates questions of efficiency in that:

Scholarship organizations are not asked to report their total income or identify their affiliations or their mission.

Section 2525 B: This section creates policy that may have a disparate impact on universal public education. By the way it has proportioned tax credits, it shows preference through tax credits for organizations that fund scholarships and bias against organizations that fund educational improvement organizations.

Testimony and Research from PA State Conference of NAACP Branches
Joan Duvall-Flynn: State Education Committee

J. Whyatt Mondesire
President: PA State Conference of NAACP Branches


Anderson, Tamara, http://www.examiner.com/education-in-philadelphia/homelessness-teen-pregnancy-and-foster-care#ixzz1EdGRqiyF.

Civil Rights: Brown v. Board of Education I (1954) www.nationalcenter.org/brown.html.

Flynn, Joan D. (2011). The Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches Agenda for Education in Pennsylvania. http://www.pastatenaacp.org/.

Jefferson, Thomas (1806). 6th Annual Message.

Skria, Linda; Scheurich, James J.;Garcia, Juanita; Nolly, Glenn. (February, 2004).  Education Administration Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 1. “Equity Audits: A Practical Leadership Tool for Developing Equitable and Excellent Schools."

Walczak v. Florida Union Free School District (1998).


Monday, February 21, 2011

Pennsylvania NOW Opposes SB 1: the State’s Proposed School Voucher Funding Program

Political parties in power often reserve the lower bill numbers in the General Assembly (and Congress) for bills that they feel are of high critical importance. So when the state Senate gave the number 1 to a school voucher bill, warning flags were immediately raised. On January 26, 2011, Senators Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin and York counties) and Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties) along with 15 co-sponsors introduced SB 1, which has been titled the "Opportunity Scholarships and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act." It was referred to the Senate Education Committee and they held the first hearing on February 16, 2011.
This title is a misnomer. Proponents of this bill are using words like "school choice" and "opportunity scholarship" rather than "voucher" because it puts a positive spin on what two thirds of the public oppose – giving tax-payer money to private and parochial schools. This bill removes funds for public education from struggling school districts by creating a voucher program to send taxpayer monies to private and parochial schools with little or no oversight as to the education provided in these schools.
Pennsylvania NOW opposes school vouchers for several reasons.
  • School vouchers are clearly unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Article III, Sections 15, 29, and 30 clearly prohibit state funding of non-public schools:
    • Article III, Section 15 states, "Public school money not available to sectarian schools. No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school."
    • Article III, Section 29 states, "Appropriations for public assistance. No appropriation shall be made for charitable, educational or benevolent purposes to any person or community nor to any denominational and sectarian institution, corporation or association…" The only exception to this constitutional prohibition is for state grants and scholarships for higher education.  
    • Article III, Section 30 states, "Charitable and educational appropriations. No appropriation shall be made to any charitable or educational institution not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth [emphasis added], other than normal schools established by law for the professional training of teachers for the public schools of the State, except by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each House."
  • Schools accepting the vouchers can discriminate in whom they accept, which could possibly violate the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act. SB 1 specifies that nonpublic schools may not discriminate in its enrollment decisions based on race. All other forms of educational discrimination would be allowed as this bill provides wide flexibility to these schools regarding other admissions policies. Therefore, a non-public school could receive monies from the state while being able to deny admissions based on gender, religion or ability. Boys, but not girls could be accepted. Christian, but not students from a Jewish or Muslim home, could be accepted. In addition, children who do not have a disability or who are "gifted" would be admitted but children who have a physical, emotional, or cognitive disability could legally be denied admission under SB 1. Note, it is the private schools – not the parent or the public school – who determines who is admitted. Thus, a private school can select whomever they want and still take public funding. Likewise, these schools can kick out any student they want to at any time without any protective recourse as is present in the public school system.
  • Voucher programs provide little to no accountability to Pennsylvania taxpayers. Private schools do not have to follow the Department of Education's academic guidelines and students are not required to take any of the state-mandated school assessment tests. As such, there is no way for parents to determine if their children would be receiving a similar quality of education.
  • Vouchers do not improve academic achievement. The schools that are targeted in SB 1 are the "under-achieving" schools in the state. The vast majority (n=125) of the 144 school districts listed by Senator Piccola are urban school districts with high levels of poverty. Research has shown that out-of-school factors such as food insecurity; lack of access to health care and insurance; family relations and family stress; and the community environment all affect academic achievement. Students who are hungry have problems concentrating in school. Students in stressful family situations and/or who are victims of or witness abuse often develop social and emotional problems that manifest themselves in low academic achievement. School vouchers do nothing to ensure that these out-of-school factors will change or improve. Without changes to the environment surrounding people living in poverty, the negative impacts of poverty will simply follow the student and continue to undermine his or her achievement potential. School vouchers do not change this one iota.
  • Children who remain in the public schools have less funding available for their education. In a tight economic environment and with a mandate to expand funding for vouchers from a minimum of $53.4 million in the first year to over $1.3 billion in the third year and thereafter, public school funding will be even further threatened. Where is this money going to come from? New taxes? This number assumes that ten percent of eligible students will use the vouchers. By pulling state funds away from the public school system and still requiring those schools to continue paying for the "in-kind" services of transportation and books, the struggling school districts will have even larger financial holes that they will need to dig out of. Robbing Peter to pay Paul – or in this case robbing public schools to pay for private, parochial education – will contribute to more, not less, problems in these school districts. Moreover, it will threaten the very existence of the right to full education for all as these schools continue to fall further and further behind.
With the hearing on SB 1 now over, the Senate Education Committee will schedule another meeting to move the bill out of committee. If the Education Committee approves the bill, it will be considered by the full Senate and, if passed, move to the House of Representatives for review.
Pennsylvania NOW is joining Americans United, the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA), the Pennsylvania NAACP, and other organizations to oppose SB 1 and school vouchers. We are all asking you to contact your legislators now to voice concerns with SB 1 and ask them to vote "No" on the bill. You can find your legislators contact information at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator. The PSBA has created a list of questions to ask your legislator. You can use this list for some of your talking points when you contact your Senator and Representative in opposing this dangerous bill.
Thank you!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Raising Women’s Voices of Western PA Call to Action

Raising Women's Voices of Western Pennsylvania
Call to Action
Speak out to oppose legislative attacks on
women's health care and Reproductive Justice!

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2011, 4:30pm-5:30pm
The Old Allegheny County Morgue
542 4th Avenue, Downtown
(Corner of 4th Avenue and Ross Street)

ACLU of Pennsylvania
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Beaver Valley Chapter, National Organization for Women (NOW)
East End Chapter, National Organization for Women (NOW)
First Pittsburgh Chapter, National Organization for Women (NOW)
New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
Pennsylvania National Organization for Women (NOW)
Squirrel Hill Chapter, National Organization for Women (NOW)
Women and Girls Foundation
Women's Law Project

For more info, email newvoicespgh@gmail.com or call 412.389.3081.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Protest Attacks on Women's Health on Thursday, February 17

Women's health is under attack in Harrisburg and Washington, DC. Fight back this Thursday at protest rallies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In Philadelphia:

When: 11:30 AM, Thursday 2/17

Where: Thomas Paine Plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall, 1417 John F Kennedy Boulevard


In Pittsburgh:

When: 4:30 PM, Thursday 2/17

Where: Old Allegheny County Morgue, 542 Fourth Avenue at the corner of Fourth and Ross


Why Are We Protesting?
Legislation in both Harrisburg and Washington DC aims to stop women from using their own money to purchase health insurance that covers abortion.

Legislators were sent to Washington and Harrisburg to create jobs but since taking office, newly elected lawmakers have instead been appeasing their extreme right wing base who want to roll back the advances women made in the last forty years.

These same lawmakers have also been busy trying to block implementation of the health care legislation passed last year even though support for it is rising as citizens come to understand how the law protects them from insurance company abuses.

Meanwhile, some members of Congress are proposing to entirely eliminate all federal funding for family planning and reproductive health services which will lead to more unintended pregnancies.  Congressional leadership in Washington will propose a budget for this fiscal year that would in addition:

  • Entirely eliminate all federal funding for family planning and reproductive health. In other words, Republicans who oppose abortion are doing everything they can to encourage more unwanted pregnancies while attacking Planned Parenthood, the most respected provider of women’s health care in the country.
  • Chop $1.1 billion cut from Head Start.
  • Cut $758 million from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program created by the Nixon administration that provides supplemental food to infants as well as health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women.
  •  Reduce the Maternal and Child Health Block Grants by $210 million. This program, a descendant of one created during the Harding Administration, supports children with special needs, provides newborn screening and genetic services, and funds lead poisoning and injury prevention.
  • Slash $1.3 billion from Community Health Centers that provide affordable health care to low income women, men and their children. Last year, Republicans claimed we didn’t need health care reform because Community Health Centers provide care to people with low incomes. This year, they are ready to slash funding for them.

And a vote is expected this Thursday in the US House to eliminate many of these programs through HR 1 - the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through the end of September!  So before coming out to either of the protest rallies, call your US Representative and tell him/her to stop these attacks.  You can obtain their contact information by going to http://www.house.gov/ and filling in your zip code in the top left corner of the page.  This will take you to your Representative's web page where you can then get the information needed to call and/or email him/her.
And meanwhile,  please sign our petition at http://PAForWomensHealth.org/ now! Raising Women's Voices, a coalition of organizations concerned about these attacks on women's health care will be delivering signatures to our lawmakers next week.
What’s at stake? Women’s lives! Please join us Thursday. Call your legislators. And sign our petition.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Anti-Abortion Vote Scheduled TODAY February 7 in PA Senate. CALL NOW!

The Pennsylvania Senate has scheduled debate and first vote on SB 3 for 3 pm TODAY!  This is the bill that will deny access to abortion coverage in insurance in the new health care exchanges. 

Please take a moment and call or email you State Senator. Contact information for each Senator can be found here. Just fill in the information. When the second page pops up, click on the name of your Senator. This will take you to his/her contact page where you can find phone numbers and either an email address or a link to the Senator's web mail form.

As we stated on Saturday in our previous blog on February 5:
The passage of SB 3 will continue to marginalize abortion service from the regulation and oversight of the medical and insurance industry. Pennsylvania law should support the provision of safe, legal abortion and not stigmatize the procedure and push it into the hands of dangerous practitioners who threaten and endanger women’s lives and health.
This legislation is unnecessary.  On January 25th, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee rushed this bill out of committee (the very first vote of any Senate committee this session).  We said then:

This bill dramatically changes the status quo. If it becomes law, it will leave women worse off than before federal health care reform took place. Currently between 80 and 87% of all health-insurance plans cover abortions. Banning abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchange would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.
And now the PA Senate is rushing this to the floor as the VERY FIRST VOTE on an issue-based bill this session. And it will be the ONLY bill up for debate. I verified this by going to the PA Senate Roll Call history page. The Senate has only held five voting days this session. And what did they vote on prior to today?
This vote is a pandering, political statement. Senators should not be focusing on social, hot-button issues. As Senator Vance and Williams clearly stated, this vote is premature. Pennsylvania voters are not interested in reopening the debate around abortion. Our lawmakers should focus on improving our health care system and stop using women’s health as a divisive issue.
CALL NOW. Thank you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Action Alert: Anti-Abortion Bill May Be Voted on in PA Senate on Monday, February 7

On January 19, 2011, Pennsylvania State Senator Don White (R-11) introduced Senate Bill 3 with 25 cosponsors. The bill would ban private insurance plans sold in the Pennsylvania health insurance exchange, created under health care reform and will begin operating by 2014, from covering even medically necessary abortion services. On January 25, 2011, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee passed SB 3.

It now appears that the full Senate will be voting on this bill on Monday, February 7.  Please take a moment and call or email you State Senator.  Contact information for each Senator can be found here.  Just fill in the information.  When the second page pops up, click on the name of your Senator.  This will take you to his/her contact page where you can find phone numbers and either an email address or a link to the Senator's web mail form.

Tell your Senator to urge postponement of consideration. Senators need to know there is a pro-choice majority in PA and that a vote for passage of this bill is both unnecessary and dangerous for women!! 

Additional background and talking points are listed below.

Background on SB 3
Senate Bill 3 will deny insurance plans participating in the insurance exchange from covering abortion services except in the cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or where the life of the woman is in danger. These exceptions to receive abortion coverage are very narrow.

• Victims of rape must personally report the incident to the police and must identify the assailant, if known. Victims of incest must personally report the incident to law enforcement and identify the offender.

• There is no exception made for catastrophic health situations such as paralysis, organ failure and infertility.
Note that this legislation is not necessary. The question of whether abortion will be covered in federally subsidized insurance exchanges has already been settled. In response to concerns raised by US Senator Ben Nelson, a staunch opponent of abortion, women who want to use their own money to purchase a health insurance plan that covers abortion services must send a separate payment so the funding for abortion coverage is completely separate and paid entirely by the individual.

What are the consequences of this bill if it becomes law?
• The passage of SB 3 will continue to marginalize abortion service from the regulation and oversight of the medical and insurance industry. Pennsylvania law should support the provision of safe, legal abortion and not stigmatize the procedure and push it into the hands of dangerous practitioners who threaten and endanger women’s lives and health.

• An estimated 80% of private insurance plans currently cover abortion services. If legislation banning abortion coverage in the state insurance exchange passes, it will dramatically change the status quo for abortion services in Pennsylvania by taking coverage away from thousands of women who may enroll in the state insurance exchange
Stories from Pennsylvania Women

These are some real-life stories of how women would be negatively affected if this ban becomes law (FYI, these stories that were provided by the Women’s Medical Fund to the Pennsylvanians for Choice Coalition). Under a ban like Senate Bill 3, these women would not be able to receive abortion services if participating in the Pennsylvania health insurance exchange.

H.D. is a young woman with two children. She makes $1,300 per month as a home health aide. Because the person whom she cares for has been hospitalized, she has had no income for a month. She was behind in her rent and feared eviction.

At age 2, Sarah underwent chemotherapy and surgery for bladder cancer. Now an adult woman with a wanted pregnancy, Sarah found out her bladder has a new lesion on it that can’t be treated while she is pregnant. She is also at risk for kidney conditions that pregnancy can worsen. She and her physicians reluctantly decided that she must terminate her pregnancy to save her health.

Q.M. is 30 years old and has two young children. She supports her family with welfare payments of $400 per month. Her fiancé just suffered a stroke and will need to be in rehab for many months. She contacted us from his bedside at the hospital. With sadness, Q.M. decided that this was not the right time to take on the responsibility of parenting another child.

G.L. is a sophomore at a suburban college living at home with her alcoholic and abusive mother and her little brother. Although her mother helps with college tuition, G.L. must cover her other expenses with savings from her summer job. She feared her mother would become violent if she turned to her for help with an abortion.

L.B. is a 30-year-old woman with a school-aged daughter. A few months ago, she was laid off from her job at a medical office. Since then, unable to find another job, she enrolled in SNAP (food stamps) and is spending down her savings account to pay her rent and other living expenses. L.B. had been using a hormonal contraceptive, so she was surprised to find herself pregnant.

R.B. is a 27-year-old woman who works as a community organizer. She suffered date rape at a party; someone slipped drugs into her drink and then assaulted her.
Once again, here's the link to your Senator's office.  Please act today! Thank you!