By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A group called Back to School PA has already given $300,000 to school board candidates, including some in this region.

And they have $200,000 more to go.

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As KDKA political editor Jon Delano explains, slates of candidates are getting $10,000 if they pledge to keep their schools open for in-person learning during COVID.

“At first I thought, ‘is this some type of scam?'” says Gail Hoppe, a school board candidate in Bethel Park.

That’s what she thought when she heard a group in Philadelphia was giving out $10,000 checks to school board candidates. Hoppe’s slate just got a check, and she’s grateful.

“Ten thousand dollars goes a long way in a school board campaign, so really more literature, more mailings. It means that we are able to reach more people,” she says.

In this region, candidates in Bethel Park, Blackhawk, North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Plum and Quaker Valley have received money from Back to School PA.

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“We are a single-issue political action committee, also known as a PAC,” says Executive Director Clarice Schillinger. “What we are focused on is helping school board candidates who will keep our schools open, whatever length they have to go to make sure our children who need in-person learning to succeed they do receive that.”

Schillinger says the money, a half-million dollars, comes from a wealthy venture capitalist in Bucks County named Paul Martino, no relation to the retired KDKA journalist.

“What he decided to do is to take this money and say, ‘every single child in the state of Pennsylvania who needs in-person learning should be able to have that choice,'” says Schillinger.

But not everyone thinks a pledge to keep schools open no matter what is very smart.

“If we find that the delta variant or any other variant is more virulent for children than past ones have been, we could have a situation where it’s expedient and necessary to close schools down,” says Matt Edgell with the PA State Education Association.

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Back to School PA says it’s strictly non-partisan. About 70 percent of its money has gone to Republicans and 30 percent to Democrats. The political action committee still has $200,000 to hand out before the end of the month.