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State Rep. Roebuck, minority education chair, loses to progressive candidate

Rick Krajewski wants a charter moratorium and a statewide effort on cleaning up toxic schools.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Longtime Pennsylvania State Rep. James Roebuck has lost to challenger Rick Krajewski in the Democratic primary to represent West Philadelphia’s 188th District.

With the in-person and mail-in votes almost fully counted from the June 2 election, Krajewski declared victory on Monday with a lead of almost 20 points over Roebuck in the four-way race. He becomes one of at least seven progressive candidates to win a primary election in Philadelphia.

Roebuck is the minority chair of the House Education Committee. The results are unofficial, and Roebuck has not yet made a statement.

“I think what this means is, honestly, that the city is ready for and needs ideas and a political vision that goes beyond the status quo,” Krajewski said in a Zoom call Monday with fellow progressives in state government.

Krajewski is virtually certain to be elected in November because nobody ran for the Republican nomination.

Rick Krajewski. (Photo: Campaign website)

According to his Squarespace website, Krajewski wants to put a moratorium on all new charter schools; he does not support the use of public school vouchers to pay for private school tuition; and he believes that all state educational revenue streams should be funneled through the Fair Funding Formula, which Pennsylvania enacted in 2016 to equitably distribute state education revenue. Right now, only new funds are distributed through this formula, not the entire amount. This reinforces the inequities that have built up over more than two decades of education allocations from Harrisburg that didn’t fully take into account districts’ needs and enrollment trends.

“I hope to bring … leadership on the matters of education funding, compensation for teachers and paraprofessionals, and remediating lead and asbestos in our public schools,” Krajewski said.

Krajewski most notably worked for Reclaim Philadelphia, an organization that had its origins in the Bernie Sanders for President movement. His campaign focused on criminal justice issues, such as ending mass incarceration. The group has been behind big progressive electoral wins in Philadelphia over the last five years, including Coucil member Kendra Brooks in 2019 and District Attorney Larry Krasner in 2017.

Roebuck’s departure will open up the minority chair position on the education committee, which could go to someone from outside Philadelphia.

As education chair, Roebuck, who has been in the House since 1985, prioritized charter school reform and fair and adequate funding for public schools. Because Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans 107-92, few of his recent initiatives were enacted.

In June 2018, Roebuck and his Democratic colleagues announced legislation pushing for affordable college in Pennsylvania. House Bill 2444 and Senate Bill 1111 passed in the House and Senate almost unanimously. In December 2019, Roebuck joined a rally to fix asbestos- and lead-ridden schools in Pennsylvania, and Gov. Wolf later announced a plan to allocate $1.1 billion to remediate the toxins in schools across the state.

“I deeply respect Rep. Roebuck’s record on education, but it is the belief of myself and many others in the education world that the current level of leadership and urgency being brought to the issue of public education quality and funding is lacking.” Krajewski said.

Roebuck’s term ends Nov. 30, and the new term begins Dec. 1.