So, who's behind those bold-face fliers?

Posted: April 06, 2012

THE FLIERS have been landing in mailboxes since last week in West Philly's 188th state House District, attacking Rep. James Roebuck for the many problems in the city's public schools.

One flier gives Roebuck failing grades on school dropouts, violence, overcrowded classrooms and alleged cheating on standardized tests. Another notes that he has been in office for 25 years but "failed to fight to educate" the city's children.

Roebuck calls it dirty politics and accuses a fellow West Philly politician, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, of engineering the attacks.

Roebuck, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, says he is responsible for thwarting a push by Williams for voucher legislation allowing tax dollars to be used for private-school tuition.

"His fingerprints are all over it," Roebuck said of the fliers.

Williams says he isn't behind the effort, but knows the people who started Public Education Excellence, the political-action committee registered with the state last week that is sending the fliers to voters in Roebuck's district.

Williams, who accuses Roebuck of "protecting the status quo" in public education, also rejects any connection to the campaign of Roebuck's opponent, Fatimah Muhammad.

A supporter of school-choice efforts, Muhammad faces Roebuck in the April 24 Democratic primary election.

"I'm not the kind of person who can pull strings and make people do things," Williams said. "People are giving me a lot more credit for power and influence than I deserve. And they're disrespecting the people who are involved."

Pro-voucher money

Joy Herbert says she started the Public Education Excellence PAC out of frustration over the public schools four of her children attend along with the experience of a son who dropped out of West Philadelphia High School.

Herbert is the chairwoman and Mel Monk, a man she met at the 52nd Street Business Association, serves as treasurer.

Shirley Randleman, who runs the association, served as co-chairwoman with Herbert for the West Philadelphia High School Advisory Board. Randleman also started the Democrats Impatient for School Choice Organization, which goes by DISCO.

Randleman was a panelist for a discussion on school choice moderated by Williams in October.

Herbert said she believes that her group received funding from American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C., and Students First PA, two proponents for school vouchers with political connections to Williams.

She referred questions about finances to Monk, who Thursday said he needed to retrieve documents to answer questions, but then did not respond to phone calls from the Daily News.

A PAC for Students First PA has been active in supporting candidates this year, giving Roebuck's opponent $25,000 in February. This is the first run for public office for Muhammad, who works at the Intercultural Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Muhammad supports school vouchers but repeatedly dodged questions on whether she would vote for the legislation proposed by Williams before saying she was unsure about supporting it.

"For me, this is about empowering parents," Muhammad said. "We want quality schools for our kids, period."

Muhammad said she had no contact with Herbert and Monk about running against Roebuck.

She called the Daily News from the 52nd Street Business Association, where she said she met Hebert and Monk.

Vouchers key issue

The voucher issue is popping up in other state House races in Philly this year.

Students First gave $20,000 to Jordan Harris, who is running for the 186th District House seat in South Philadelphia that opened in January when Kenyatta Johnson become a city councilman.

Johnson and Harris both came of age in Williams' political camp.

Harris, who faces two opponents in the Democratic primary, says he "would aggressively" consider the pending legislation proposed by Williams.

"The power should be in the hands of the parents to decide which school their children should go to," Harris said.

Malik Boyd, one of two challengers for state Rep. Rosita Youngblood in the 198th District, which stretches from East Mount Airy to Olney, is also interested in the Williams legislation and is pushing an idea for a tax credit to help parents pay for school tuition.

Youngblood has held her seat since 1994.

Like Muhammad, Boyd's campaign uses Ross Communications for public relations. The firm worked for Williams in 2010 when he made a bid for governor based largely on school choice.

Will Mega is challenging state Rep. Louise Bishop in the 192nd District, which includes Wynnefield and Overbrook Park.

Bishop, in office 24 years, took a $5,000 campaign donation from Students First last year but says she opposes school vouchers.

Mega supports vouchers and is courting Students First for campaign contributions.

"As of now, I've yet to receive any donations," Mega said. "But it's not over."


Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or brennac@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN. Read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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