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Holocaust Education Legislation Stalls in Harrisburg

March 19, 2014 By:
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The push for legislation mandating Holocaust education in Pennsylvania has stalled, according to those familiar with the negotiations in Harrisburg. 

With the debate over whether to include a course curriculum mandate in the legislation having become increasingly contentious, a bill including a mandate, currently in the state Senate, is unlikely to be put to a vote anytime soon, sources said. 

Advocates for Holocaust education all say they would like to see the curriculum mandated in Pennsylvania. But some stakeholders, including the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which represents Jewish organizations across the state, say that is unlikely to happen in the current political climate. Therefore, they say they would rather see legislation pass that improves Holocaust education rather than nothing at all.

The Holocaust education bill is unlikely to be put to a vote until after the primary elections in May, said state Rep. Paul Clymer, a Republican from Bucks County who initially proposed legislation in the House of Representatives calling for the state to provide schools with funding and teachers with the training and educational materials needed for Holocaust education. State Sen. John Rafferty Jr., a Republican from Montgomery County, then introduced an amendment to the bill in December to mandate the curriculum.

“We thought there was an agreement that the Senate was going to move it forward,” Clymer said of the original bill he proposed. “I’m afraid it doesn't have a bright future right now; maybe when we come back in September.” 

Clymer said he would vote for an amended bill calling for a mandate if such legislation passes the Senate, and if school boards and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, switch their position to support such a mandate.

Advocates for the mandate have worked to rally support for the amended bill, and at least one school board, from the Coun­cil Rock School District, has voted to support that such curriculum be taught across the state. 

Much of that effort has come from Rhonda Fink Whitman, a vocal supporter of the mandate who produced a popular video last year showing the lack of Holocaust knowledge among college students in the Philadelphia area. But the Bucks County resident has also not shied away from publicly criticizing stakeholders who have said they are willing to compromise on whether to include the mandate.

“We’re on our way, but we’re still getting resistance,” Fink Whitman said in a second video advocating for Holocaust education. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. A little bit of sabotage going on there.”

Fink Whitman said she believes there is enough support to pass the amended bill in the state Senate and House. State Sen. Anthony Williams, who proposed legislation last year mandating Holocaust education and has been a vocal supporter of such curriculum, could not be reached for comment.

Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, said he does not expect the legislation to be put to a vote in the near future. 

“The opinions of both those who support the mandate and those who do not support the mandate have made the issue somewhat controversial,” said Butler. “And the legislators want to take more time to examine the issue.”

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