Updated 4:30 p.m.
State Sen. John Eichelberger says he’s been “the victim of a fake news story” and specifically called out a Philadelphia lawmaker after he came under fire this week for comments about “inner-city” students.
Last week, The Carlisle Sentinel reported that Eichelberger, R-Blair County, was critical of “inner-city” schools saying, “they’re pushing [students] toward college and they’re dropping out…They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less intensive track, they would.”
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila., told The Inquirer Monday that he “went through the roof” when he heard Eichelberger’s statements and said the senator doesn’t deserve to chair the Senate Education Committee. Hughes also told The (Public School) Notebook that Eichelberger’s comments reflect “a racist viewpoint [and] stereotype that we’ve been dealing with for generations.”
In a blog post on his website posted Tuesday titled “I’m fighting to give these kids a chance,” Eichelberger wrote that “The [Carlisle] Sentinel did a dishonest story about my town hall meeting last week, the Democrats decided to spin it even further, and other liberal media outlets followed along.”
A spokesperson for Eichelberger said that he has “never denied saying that,” but “the larger context is lost in the story.” That larger context, his office says, is that “the comment was taken out of a larger conversation on education and how we prepare our students for the future.”
In the blog post, Eichelberger then called out Hughes specifically, writing:
At this point, a Senator from Philadelphia, Vince Hughes, is calling me a racist because I spoke about the failing schools in Philadelphia, located in minority neighborhoods, not preparing their students for college. He’s trying to say that since the kids are black, that I think they’re not capable of learning. Wrong. I see the potential of these children and want to see them succeed. Their race doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that every child has opportunities to succeed. I’m fighting to give these kids a chance; he’s fighting to protect the status quo and collect another check from the teacher’s union.
Hughes said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that Eichelberger’s blog post “sounds like he went to Trump 101” because its references to “fake news” and “the liberal media” are “completely Trumpian.”
“The Trump election has emboldened a number of these individuals and, looking at his last statement, it appears they’re copying off of what Trump is saying,” he said.
Hughes also says the charge that he’s just looking to “collect another check from the teacher’s union” is “absolutely ridiculous.” He stood by his comments that Eichelberger’s statements were “racist,” and says it was Eichelberger who made the issue about race when he said inner-city schools serving majority minority students should reconsider pushing college-preparedness courses.
For Hughes, Eichelberger’s comments on city schools come back to funding formulas. Pennsylvania has one of the largest disparities in the country when it comes to how much state funding schools receive per student.
“That gets to the heart of the persistence issue,” Hughes said. “It’s not because [students] don’t have the aptitude. But the crux of it goes into these underfunded school districts.”
Eichelberger, a school choice advocate, has taken heat for the comments from a variety of public education advocates and Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Jay Costa who told The Inquirer that he found Eichelberger’s comments “offensive.”
“What I hear is a person saying that students in inner-city communities, some of which I represent, are not deserving of the opportunity to go to college — and that they should be geared toward technical schools,” Costa said.
The Inquirer reported Eichelberger’s criticisms stemmed from “his perspective stemmed from a visit to Philadelphia, conversations about the city’s schools, and a constituent’s description of a book by Thomas Sowell, a conservative economist at Stanford University.”