As a former legislative aide to state Rep. Todd Stephens, a Montgomery County Republican, Clarice Schillinger got a firsthand look at how the legislative process works in Pennsylvania. She went on to form two political actions committees dedicated to getting students back in the classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic – and is now hoping to fight for educational reforms as she campaigns to be the state’s next lieutenant governor. City & State spoke with Schillinger about how she intends to build off of her advocacy work if elected, and how she hopes to use the unique office to champion school choice, reduce crime and stimulate the economy.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Over the past few years you formed the Keeping Kids in School PAC and the Back To School PA PAC. What prompted you to form these two political action committees?
Let me just give you a little bit of history about me, and then you'll really understand why I am such an advocate for education. I actually was a teen mom. I was pregnant at 18 and I had Lexi at 19. I was a single mom for about six years and then I met my husband who is now holding down the fort. When I left my career as a legislative aide and came home with our two children … I was sitting at the kitchen table with them for 18 months while schools were shut down and I couldn't stop thinking, “I'm blessed and fortunate enough to have now been able to come home with my children, but what are the single parents doing? What are the houses that need both incomes to make ends meet doing?” It really troubled me … So that is what drove me to start both of those PACs.
With two successful PACs, why did you decide to run for lieutenant governor and not just continue working to elect candidates to office through those action committees?
The role of lieutenant governor for the past few years has been used to advocate for legalizing marijuana, hanging flags illegally outside of our Capitol, when that role should be … (used to) get things moving, get things out of gridlock. So it really should be more of a boots-on-the-ground kind of job (where) you go to the communities, you bring it back to the governor, you bring it back to the legislature, you push things forward. So where my frustration came was, we have something so glaring that needs to be changed, and we still cannot change it … These are the things where I said we have to have a voice of advocacy in Harrisburg, but more importantly, we have to have a voice of advocacy in the executive branch.
Your campaign website says you will fight for a world-class education for Pennsylvania students. Are there specific policy changes that you think are needed at the state level to ensure students get the best education possible?
Yes. I truly believe in school choice, and the reason why I believe in school choice is I believe in creating competition and competition makes us all better. School choice is so critically important to me. It's important to students. It's important to families to be able to choose what is best for them and their child and how their child learns.
Some schools and state and local governments are making efforts to ban books and prohibit certain topics from being taught. Should the government – whether it be school boards or state officials – be limiting what students are taught?
I don't agree with banning books … What the core issue here is, is the lack of transparency. So that is where I do believe that the government does need to step in. We saw Gov. Wolf veto the curriculum transparency bill. For me and for parents, that should just be a given. It should be transparent. Then, if we create school choice, if the parent does not like what that certain school is teaching, they have the ability to move their child wherever they see their child succeeding more. So, it's not about banning books. It's not about banning certain curriculums. It's more about transparency and communication. You see a lot of the parents upset – why you see them upset is because, at first, we had unlimited amount of time to speak. It's five minutes – now it's three minutes – two minutes, and it's once a month that they get this opportunity to speak (at school board meetings) after sending repeated emails with no response, after meetings with no response. That's where you're starting to see this extreme frustration.
The lieutenant governor's office is somewhat limited in terms of its duties and powers. How do you envision yourself using this office to achieve your policy goals?
Everyone knows our current lieutenant governor advocates for legalizing drugs and I know that there is no doubt in my mind that I can use that role to advocate for education, economy and safe communities. I have made a very conscious effort to make a relationship with each and every gubernatorial candidate that's running. That was very important to me so that whoever does get through the primary – I will be an asset to any one of them, but also already have a relationship with them … I have made a promise throughout the commonwealth that you're not going to hear (that) the governor and lieutenant governor don't get along. This is about being the right hand of the governor – assisting and getting things done and after what we've been through the past two or three years – really getting us back on track.
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