Clarice Schillinger, who last year helped to elect school directors across the state to get kids back into the classroom, announced this week she is running as a Republican for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. 

For the Franklin County native who now lives in Montgomery County with her husband and children, Schillinger and her family felt firsthand the impact of schools closing in her own Hatboro-Horsham School District in reaction to COVID-19. She started the Keeping Kids in School PAC to endorse school-board candidates and formed Back to School PA PAC to provide financial support to school-director campaigns across Pennsylvania. 

Having raised $700,000 for nearly 230 hopefuls in 70 school districts in the Keystone State, Schillinger’s bipartisan project saw much success last November, even in some politically challenging terrain. About 60 percent of the candidates supported by Back to School PA won their elections, with seven districts in the southeast, southwest, Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg areas previously controlled by school closers flipping to school reopeners.

“Bringing these issues to the forefront was extremely important and we were very successful in doing so,” Schillinger told The Pennsylvania Daily Star. 

Before starting her political action committees, she worked for the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority and for State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-District 151). And even with all the victories, her political action committees can claim, she said much of what she learned pushing for school reopening last year inspired her to ask for voters’ backing to put her knowledge of state government to use in an executive role in Harrisburg. 

For one thing, she was stunned by the vigorous fundraising endeavors many Pennsylvania parents took up to sue school districts for their prolonged closures—and by judges throwing aside every one of their cases. Schillinger then sat down to read the entire 1,026 pages of the state’s school code and discovered the reason: a provision allowing school directors to close a school for up to four years should those directors deem an emergency severe enough. 

Schillinger has worked on legislation to change that part of the code, but that bill has stalled in Harrisburg. She wants to go to the state capitol to see it through, and to usher in legislation on school choice, less onerous tax policy and other measures she sees as important to families and businesses.

“I see myself being a really good right hand and getting issues across the finish line,” she said. “With what we’ve been through, enough’s enough. Without question, our kids, our taxpayers, our business owners, our parents need somebody in that building who will advocate—banging on the decision-making table—for them, especially after what we’ve been through in the past two years.”

And while Schillinger may not have sought electoral office herself before, her experiences on the school issue, in particular, have helped to build her political mettle and her sagacity. This was demonstrated particularly when Bill Senavaitis, president of the Midwestern Region Pennsylvania State Education Association called the candidates Schillinger was backing “jerks.” She and her compatriots were unfazed, turning JERK into their own acronym: “Just Educate R Kids.” 

Beth Ann Rosica, a 2021 Libertarian mayoral candidate in West Chester Borough in Chester County, first met Schillinger when the two appeared on FOX News last February. The two thereafter began coordinating advocacy efforts and Rosica recently took over the executive directorship of Back to School PA which they say expects to undertake robust campaign activities again in 2023.

“She’s kindhearted, she really understands the issues [and] she really understands the impact on regular people,” Rosica said. “Our big concern was always about disadvantaged kids, working parents, single moms and what this impact of school closures was on them and on small businesses [and] our taxpayers. She’s a very kind, committed, passionate person and I know that she will bring that same passion to the state. She will be there to represent a lot of people who don’t feel represented in Harrisburg.”

Schillinger sees herself as launching the kind of grassroots campaign exemplified by Virginia GOP Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, himself a political neophyte until recently. She recently met with Youngkin and was encouraged by that discussion. She is receiving further encouragement from many of the candidates she helped in 2021.

“She has the perspective of a parent who knows what it looks like to have their children home from school when they were previously thriving in school,” said Jennifer Cannon, an English-as-second-language instructor who won a seat on the Lower Moreland (Montgomery County) School Board last year.

Cannon is herself a mother of three daughters, ages 11, seven and four. She said the school closures have been particularly difficult for her middle child, as the COVID countermeasures first saw implementation when that child was in kindergarten. 

“She’s never had a normal year of school,” Cannon said. “Having a non-reader at home doing virtual learning, even as a teacher who teaches beginning reading, was very difficult.”

The newly sworn-in school director expressed strong support for Schillinger’s electoral effort and touted her governing experience, saying her friend’s expertise bolstered her ability to form a bipartisan coalition that effected change in locales across the state.

“I don’t think that just anybody could have done that,” she said. “Her background really helped her with that.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Clarice Schillinger” by Clarice Schillinger. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Kumar Appaiah. CC BY-SA 2.0.