By the Hon. Sam Rohrer, President of the PA Pastors Network
Eighteen years of experience as a Pennsylvania State representative verified the complexity of constructing and passing good laws and the difficulty of blocking bad laws. Sadly, it is modern politics. Little discussion is based on the merit of the bill; most discussion, which occurs behind closed doors, is in the form of deals and bribes. The passing of good laws is difficult.
Good educational laws were perhaps the most difficult and emotional. At the core of the debate is the question of who controls education. Those who fear God and understand His plan for parents to educate their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord know the value of Christian education. Those who reject God and oppose His plan for the family seek to replace parental control with government control. It’s that simple.
In 1993, during my first year in office, I asked to be placed on the Education Committee, because education from a biblical and historical perspective was important to me. Our early history was significantly shaped by the priority of education from a godly frame of reference. The Puritans started Harvard University in 1636 for the purpose of preparing men to preach the Gospel. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, knew that the ‘virtuous’ education of our youth was critical for freedom to succeed.
My introduction to the aggressive assault on good laws for education had started before I was even officially sworn in. Outcomes Based Education, better known as OBE, was being implemented in the public schools without the knowledge of most legislators or parents. Few understood that OBE started with the educational program of George Bush, Sr., called “America 2000,” whose purpose was, in his words, to ‘revolutionize our schools.’ While designed to ‘raise educational standards’ and improve the process by setting ‘objective outcomes,’ this new approach was really affective and subjective, rather than objective. The goal of OBE was to restructure the methodology and to redefine the purpose for education by controlling the curriculum and testing by federally standardizing these and other core components. At first blush, this sounded good, but it wasn’t.
In order for the Federal government to implement this change, ‘bribe money’ was unfortunately offered to state governors; in exchange, they would hand over their constitutional authority for education to the federal government who promised that Washington would underwrite the increasing costs of education. Along with a colleague in the PA House, I led the opposition to the initial implementation of OBE in our state. With God’s help and a statewide groundswell of citizen opposition, our long and intense battle was successful in driving this early effort underground. Understanding the spiritual nature of this debate, I knew this early victory was just temporary.
Although the aggressive implementation in Pennsylvania was delayed, the overall attack on parental control was just reforming. In time, the components of OBE resurfaced in 1994 in the form of Goals 2000, the “Educate America Act” signed by Bill Clinton. Empowered through the agreement of the National Governors Association (with consent of governors of both parties), Bill Clinton increased the assault by increasing federal funding and, by so doing, further diminished parental authority and violated constitutional prohibitions. Goals 2000 morphed into “No Child Left Behind” under George W. Bush and then into “Race to the Top” under Barack Obama. Each version further destroyed the quality of education, consolidated more power in Washington and spent billions more dollars.
Due to weak governors who desired ‘easy’ money more than principle, lazy state and federal legislators who willingly turned a blind eye to the assault on the Constitution, and indifferent parents who ignored their responsibility to direct the education of their children, the fight to preserve quality public education has been lost. Not only has the control of education been handed over from the parents and states to Washington, the core values of education have purposefully shifted from a biblical worldview to an anti-God Postmodern worldview.
In the mid 90’s when Goals 2000 was being implemented under a Democrat President, governors of both parties were twisting the arms of legislators to pass the concept of vouchers as financial aid for students in private schools. In Pennsylvania, our Republican Governor invested his full political capital to pass voucher legislation. At first, many, agreeing that their school property taxes should contribute toward their children’s private education, supported vouchers. Several Republican House members and I perceived the dangers inherent in the wording of the drafted legislation as yet another insidious plan to control private and Christian schools too. In order to protect the independence of private education from the dictates of governmental control, I spearheaded the legislative effort and designed a business tax credit approach that would protect private education independence but would allow business owners to voluntarily direct some of their state taxes to private and Christian schools.
The Governor and some of my party leadership opposed this tax credit approach. They wanted vouchers and a budget line-item umbilical cord connection to the taxpayer’s wallet. They repudiated the fear of usurped control of our private and Christian schools. On this particular issue, I fought for eight years against the internal political pressure to ‘get in line’ and to ‘support the Governor even if it means violating your principles or other concerns.’ Threats to ‘kill’ other legislation we had sponsored or bribes to ‘grease the skids’ to move our legislation were intimidating. The Governor even recruited a candidate against me in one Primary election as ‘punishment’ for opposing his plan. Ultimately, in the waning weeks of that Governor’s last session, my tax credit bill was inserted into the budget and passed. Interestingly enough, my fellow colleagues and I were denied the ‘credit’ for the new law, and the Governor claimed victory for the bill although his opposition had been intense along the way!
Good laws – those born of biblical principle, not of bribery and those which fortify parental control not facilitate government control – can happen. Thanks to our long fight, the nationally recognized Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) has become referred to by many as the National Model School Choice law. Not engendering one lawsuit, engaging over 10,000 participating businesses and helping over 175,000 students to attend private and Christian schools, this carefully written bill was worth the fight. So it is in the opposition to bad laws and the pursuit of good laws!
This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review, Volume 5 Issue 1. If you would like to become a member and receive a print edition of the magazine, please click here. If you would like to learn about other ways you can get involved, please click here.