A Recap of the Pittsburgh Primaries and What They Mean for Public Education

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

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Earlier this week, Pennsylvania held its biannual state elections. So today, the Eagle takes a look at how public education might be affected were each Pittsburgh-based winner to go on to win in November as well, based on each candidate’s platform and track record concerning the issue.

 

Legend:

(W) = Winner

(D) = Democrat

(R) = Republican

(i) = Incumbent

 

SENATE

 

Seats not up for election:

Senate District 43 (Jay Costa (D))

 

Uncontested victories:

Senate District 42 (Wayne D. Fontana (D))

 

Contested races:

Senate District 38 – Republican

(W) Jeremy Shaffer (R): 10,430 votes (59%)

Randy Vulakovich (R) (i): 7,343 votes (41%)

In many ways, Jeremy Shaffer fits the image of a stereotypical conservative, from his belief in limited government to his pro-gun, anti-immigration tendencies to his prioritization of religious values. This appears to be what the Republicans of Senate District 38 desire, as evidenced by his comfortable victory over incumbent Randy Vulakovich. To this end, public schooling would no doubt be a prime target of Shaffer’s should he be elected come November. His official stance on the matter reads as follows: “All children should have [the opportunity for excellent public schools], and fortunately the 38th State Senate District is home to many excellent school districts. Pennsylvania and the 38th District are equally fortunate to offer a variety of choices for education including parochial schools, private schools, and homeschooling. On a personal note, my wife and I have chartered a path for our five children that has included Christian school, homeschooling, and eventually public school during their K-12 years. All parents should have the freedom to be able to choose what is best for their particular child’s needs and I support school choice.” Shaffer’s advocacy for tax cuts further undermines the notion that he might be any sort of advocate for public education.

Senate District 38 – Democratic

(W) Lindsey Williams (D): 13,215 (58%)

Stephanie Walsh (D): 9,535 (42%)

Lindsey Williams is a staunch defender of public schools over their charter counterparts. In an exclusive interview with the Eagle, Ms. Williams said this: “I think that our charter school law in Pennsylvania is the worst in the country and it is way overdue in terms of being revised to better protect students….[Charter schools] often don’t look like the communities they serve, both in racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities. They don’t often take kids with special needs. I think that we need to support public education and fund more public education all the way from early childhood to high school to postsecondary to make sure that everybody has a chance at achieving the American dream, and you get that through a strong public education system.”

 

HOUSE

Uncontested victories:

House District 23 (Dan Frankel (D)), House District 27 (Daniel J. Deasy (D)), House District 36 (Harry Readshaw (D)), House District 42 (Dan L. Miller (D))

 

Contested Races:

House District 19 – Democratic

(W) Jake Wheatley (D) (i): 2,776 votes (48%)

Aerion Abney (D): 2,416 votes (42%)

Ebony Taylor (D): 560 votes (10%)

In what was a relatively tight race, perhaps surprisingly so, incumbent Jake Wheatley managed to edge out his opponent, Aerion Abney, a local community organizer. On education, Wheatley has remained mostly consistent throughout his eight terms in office, pushing for improved quality of public schooling and increased accessibility for minorities to said quality. Though his official website mentions nothing of charter schools, he has historically voiced favor for them, not as a replacement, but rather as an alternative only when necessary. Wheatley certainly doesn’t bring any radical new ideas to the table around education, but his views don’t exactly pose a threat to school as we know it.

 

House District 20 – Democratic

(W) Adam Ravenstahl (D) (i): 4,130 votes (59%)

Mike Devine (D): 2,827 votes (41%)

Another incumbent, Adam Ravenstahl has repeatedly spoken out about the importance of education throughout the course of his four previous terms as Representative. Endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Ravenstahl supports the increase of tax spending on public schools. His voting record shows that he sticks to party lines when it comes to charter schools, although he individually has had little to say regarding the subject.

 

House District 21 – Democratic

(W) Sara Innamorato (D): 5,905 votes (64%)

Dom Costa (D) (i): 3,920 votes (36%)

One of the two candidates to defeat an incumbent Costa, Sara Innamorato “know[s] firsthand the impact a solid public school education can have on a person’s life and ability to succeed,” and stresses the gravity of quality learning in low-income communities. She does not believe that the current state of charter schools in the state is a productive one, and aims to restructure the system to “ensure accountability and transparency”. Innamorato is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a key tenet of which is the separation of public postsecondary education from “the corporate world”.

 

House District 24 – Democratic

(W) Ed Gainey (D) (i): 6,797 votes (81%)

William Anderson (D): 879 votes (11%)

Todd Koger (D): 693 votes (8%)

Another incumbent who glided to an easy victory: Ed Gainey. A Pittsburgh native and graduate of none other than Peabody High School, Gainey has focused on keeping in touch with the community throughout his three terms, and this practice translates to his beliefs on education. He remains an advocate for increased spending on Head Start to provide free Pre-K, as well as easier access to college. He has also voiced his support of the recent measure to end all suspensions within Pittsburgh Public for students in kindergarten through third grade.

 

House District 34 – Democratic

(W) Summer Lee (D): 6,892 votes (68%)

Paul Costa (D) (i): 3,274 votes (32%)

Similarly to Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee’s win came at the expense of a Costa. Also similarly to Innamorato, Lee is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Accordingly, she promotes free pre-K and greater spending on K-12 public education via increased taxes on the wealthy. She also dislikes charter schools, as she feels they are a form of wasteful “privatization”.

 

Polling figures courtesy of WTAE and the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

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