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In Wake of Defeat, Pa. Governor Vows To Revive Education Plan

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Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania is likely to push education issues again in the state's fall legislative session, but he has not yet committed to fighting again for school choice.

Mr. Ridge last month conceded defeat for his broad education plan, which included a proposal for statewide private and public school choice, even though the legislature technically never voted on it. But the Republican Governor said his plan had substantial public support and will be revived.

Mr. Ridge probably will introduce some education initiative this fall, said Tim Reeves, the Governor's press secretary, but he has not yet decided whether to include the controversial tuition grants for private and religious school students that sparked strong opposition this spring.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, say they, too, plan to make education an issue. They have called for an education "summit" with Mr. Ridge this summer. And they say they want to put aside their differences with the Governor on the tuition grants and work on other parts of his plan, including proposals to create charter schools and pay for distance-learning technology.

"Conceptually, there's a lot of room for agreement," said Rep. Ron Cowell, the Democratic leader of the House education committee.

28,000 Faxes

Such an overture followed weeks of feuding over the single, up-or-down vote in the House on the Governor's entire plan, one of the most ambitious debated in any state this year. (See Education Week, 6/7/95.)

New or expanded voucher programs limited to one city won approval in Ohio and Wisconsin late last month. (See related story .)

A statewide coalition of more than 40 organizations opposed the proposed tuition grants in Pennsylvania and organized a statewide bus tour to fight the plan. It also worked with a public-relations company to flood House members with about 28,000 faxes from constituents, coalition leaders said.

Mr. Ridge, meanwhile, stumped for the plan across the state and called many House members to his office to lobby for it personally. Some lawmakers claimed these closed-door conversations included offers for legislative pay raises and funding for pet projects, such as road or bridge construction, in exchange for votes--charges that the Governor said were not true.

On June 16, after several postponed votes, the House rejected the plan, 106 to 95. But Republican leaders nullified the formal tally, saying that the electronic tote board that registers votes malfunctioned.

(See Education reform in Pennsylvania has always been the education establishment suggesting tinkering with the system," Mr. Reeves said of the defeat. "Governor Ridge was proposing an overhaul of the system itself. In doing so, he had to take on virtually every acronym in the state--all the education groups organized to oppose him."

Nancy Smith, a co-chairwoman of the coalition opposed to the tuition grants, said, "Frankly, we think the support was never there from the public on this issue."

The plan's defeat was a setback for the 1,900-student district of Wilkinsburg, which a local teachers' union is suing because it hired a for-profit company to run an elementary school beginning in the fall. (See related story

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