HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is under fire for his comments about public educators, calling them “special interest people” who “don’t really care about the kids”.
His comments were caught on camera outside Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, where U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was hosting an education roundtable. Turzai was attending the event.
DeVos and Turzai are vocal supporters of school choice and voucher programs that allow students to use public funds to attend private or charter schools.
Turzai pushed against protesters outside of the event, calling them part of a “monopoly.”
“What’s your support on public education?” a retired public school teacher asked in the video posted to PA Spotlight’s Twitter page.
Turzai responded calmly, citing what he describes as record-level investments in public education.
“We do over $30 billion, over $30 billion annually for public education annually for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Turzai said, adding that his own family includes public school teachers.
Soon, though, Turzai took aim at those protesters, saying private and charter schools promote individual attention, not public schools.
“You have to care about each child, not about the monopoly, which is where I think you folks are. You’re special interest people. You don’t really care about the kids,” Turzai said.
That didn’t sit well with protesters.
“I’m a little offended from that,” said Kathy Bravin, the retired teacher, before she was cut off by Turzai.
“Oh, I’m offended by your posters,” he said, pointing to Bravin’s poster that read “I love public schools” and another that read “public money for public schools.”
“I have dedicated my life to children,” Bravin said in response.
Turzai interrupted again, saying, “Those that want a monopoly and that are only about special interest and not about the child, I think they need to think twice, and I think that includes you.”
Chris Lilienthal of the Pennsylvania State Education Association said he was stunned by Turzai’s comments.
“We can’t have reporters, we can’t have doctors, we can’t have lawyers if we don’t have teachers,” Lilienthal said. “A lifelong educator who dedicated her career to working with students was somehow a special interest who didn’t care about students. I would hope that all elected officials love their public schools because that is where the vast majority of students are going every day to learn. They should always be respected and we should always have an open dialogue so that we can learn from each other.”
Lilienthal criticized DeVos and Turzai’s support of voucher programs.
“Voucher programs don’t get the job done. They divert funding away from public schools to private schools,” he said.
In a statement to ABC27, Turzai’s office said:
“[Turzai]’s own family worked in public education. He is not an opponent of public education or of teachers. He believes EVERY child deserves the best education we can provide and he has supported record levels of state funding for public education. He also believes that families deserve the right to chose the best educational fit for their children. That education could be a great public school or a private school of a family’s choice.”
Turzai also supports increasing Pennsylvania’s educational improvement tax credit, which gives a tax credit to businesses that provide scholarships to students.
Gov. Tom Wolf this year vetoed House Bill 800, a proposal that would have doubled that credit.