Representative Kevin Schreiber, York Delegate
“I don’t think there’s anything better than helping the community you live in.”
From Beaver County to Bucks County, delegates are traveling across the Keystone State to support Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. This week we’re sharing the delegates’ remarkable stories of resilience and tenacity.
For the better part of a decade I grew up outside Philadelphia. I came to York to attend York College and ended up staying. I actually moved back to Philly, for about a year and half in Manayunk, and then came back to York and made my life and career here.
I worked as York’s economic and community development director. I lived in the city and walked to work. It was great. I met my wife, who owns a small business, a coffee shop, and just absolutely had a blast. I fell in love with York.
York City’s population is about 43,000, in a county of 430,000. It’s one of the faster growing counties. We’re the fifth largest in Pennsylvania. This gave me first hand knowledge of some of the challenges that all of our cities face.
Whether you’re Philadelphia or York, you’ve got some of the similar challenges and similar opportunities, but you’re also in a national, 21st century innovative economy. Millennials want to live in the city. We have this tremendous opportunity to capture the potential of young people moving to cities after college.
But, there are some significant challenges. I spent the better part of a decade working for the city trying to improve the quality of life and the local economy. Then my predecessor ran for auditor general and won. His seat opened up, which doesn’t happen very often. There was a special election, so I ran. I figured I could roll the dice. I was 31 or 32. I talked to my wife, and we just said “let’s go for it. If we can win and have fun and get some things done, then that’s awesome.” If not, I’m young enough and could hopefully go on to something else. I did that and won in 2013.
One of the biggest, most critical, and most substantial challenges that York and Pennsylvania faces is the disparity in education funding. It was one of the top issues in the gubernatorial campaign between our former Governor Corbett and Tom Wolf. It was was the first time in 50 years that education was a number one issue.
I represent a district with some of the poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods in York, because I represent all of the city and the first ring suburbs. I have some of the best performing schools and some of the more struggling ones, so I see it first hand. It’s the whole continuum of education that needs attention. It starts in pre-k, which is of huge, paramount importance. Pennsylvania is a weird state in that we’re one of the few states left that don’t have mandatory kindergarten. We don’t even have full day kindergarten. So pre-k is a big issue, and then all the way up to higher education and making college more affordable. Pennsylvania ranks third nationally in student debt. We have an average of $33,000 in student debt per graduate with an average interest rate of seven percent. That’s a big issue.
Education impacts everything we hold dear in society: public safety, investor confidence, everything that we do. That’s why it’s really the number one issue.
Do you have any anecdotes or stories that you could share about education impacting your constituency or yourself?
I would not be a state representative from York if I didn’t go to York College, which gave me a great education. I’ve since gone on to get my Master’s from Penn State in Public Administration.
I’m in an area where we have a high concentration of poverty. We have near 100 percent of students on free or reduced price lunches. I see it first hand. Our goal in the city of York is to get to 100% universal availability for pre-k. We’re at 50 percent now.
We have 20 years worth of data that shows that the earlier at-risk youths start school, the better likelihood for success in the long run. We need to be connecting our at risk youth with educational opportunities as early as possible. Right now, York County is actually one of the lead counties in the state for education. Even in York County, not just the city, we only have accessibility for 14 percent of three and four year olds to go to pre-k, which is just abysmal. We need to do a better job.
On the other end, I have York College, Penn State, and Harrisburg Area Community College in my district, so at any given point in time there are about 10,000 college students in the York metropolitan area. I see it firsthand with young people coming out of school shouldered in debt. That’s a first mortgage for them. That is impacting buying power, purchasing power; it’s impacting our economy because it precludes you from maybe buying a car or buying a house early enough. We have students staying in their parents’ homes longer. These are all real world issues that we see daily in my district, but it’s replicated in the state.
Absolutely. Can you remember when you decided you were going to support Hillary Clinton in the election?
Absolutely. I heard her give a knockout speech on behalf of Tom Wolf that night firsthand from a couple rows back. I don’t know how you can listen to some of her speeches and her bevy of career experience leading to this point and not feel compelled that she is the most qualified candidate and is going to do an incredible job. That speech was a mic drop moment. We were in her camp before, but on that train ride back, we were all in for Hillary.
It’s so great when you meet her in person. It just brings everything she does to life.
This is a person who’s been in our cultural lexicon for 30 years now. I can remember I was 12 when Bill was elected, so that was my first introduction to Hillary. I kind of grew up in that Clinton administration and that was the first president that I really remember being interested in and being a little bit more cognizant of the issues. Hillary’s just incredibly personable, a wonderful person, and to see her go out and nail a speech was exciting.
It would be nice to finally be able to say Madame President. It’s long overdue. We are woefully behind the times in having more female leaders, not just at the presidency, but even in our own local government. We have less women in our state government than Afghanistan, which is why it’s so important that we have more women in government.
What can millennials do to impact politics?
Be engaged. I know that sounds trivial or cliche, but honest to God there are so many reasons to feel disenfranchised and disappointed in government. But that’s no reason to check out. It is easier to check out. It’s easier to sit back and complain or hop on Facebook and gripe. It’s harder to become engaged and it’s harder to change the process.
I know individuals shy away from engaging with their elected officials. A young lady who just graduated high school tweeted at me once about a friend of hers who was in an abusive family, was taken away from her family, and put into “the system.” She had questions about it and had recommendations on how to improve it. She tweeted at me and I told her “Well, it’s harder to do this in 140 characters. Let’s meet.”
We met and ended up friends, with her interning in the office and coming up for children and youth hearings. She’s now going to college to be a social worker. She’s going to change the world. That started from a tweet, so I think it’s important that you realize elected officials are elected to represent you. It’s important to engage with them.
Do what is is convenient for you. Use Twitter, email, or Facebook. Do it civilly, because we’ve lost civil discourse in society. It’s good when you debate issues because usually you get a better net result. We’re too extreme, obviously. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think what is important for the millennial generation is to not be cynical of government but to recognize its value.
At the end of the day, our system of government is comprised of people and people reflect the community. Therefore, it’s an agent of good. That’s where we need people to be engaged and that doesn’t just mean running for office. There are a lot of positions in government that we need good people for. My office is all millennials that are two or three years out of college. Building that resume and developing that network is important.
You can get a lot of reward in whatever job you do but I don’t think there’s anything better than helping the community you live in and government gives you the ability to do that. Regardless of level, you get that altruistic return.
It’s easy to sit back and criticize. Ben Franklin said, “When you point fingers, remember there’s three pointing back at you.” That’s why it’s important for millennials. If you’re going to change the system, you have to get involved with it and you have to get involved with it under the right pretense and not be ideological. We have our extremes on both sides and social media has amplified the ability to criticize someone.
If you take a vote with Republicans you’re seen as selling out, or if Republicans take a vote with Democrats they’re seen as weak and spineless. There are times to draw your line in the sand, but the vast majority there are times to find that middle ground. Politics and governing really is an art form. Unfortunately, it’s become a lost art so that’s why we need more young people to take it over.
I hope that with the convention coming, with this election being so historic, young people will feel energized and not as disenfranchised and that they are being listened to.
At the end of the day, we’re all Americans. There was that great letter that President George H.W. Bush left Bill Clinton on the desk in the oval office. It said, “When you read this, you will be President and I will be a loyal American citizen just like anyone else. I’m rooting for your success just as much as everyone else because it means our country’s success.” At the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We all want to see progress happen. We differ sometimes on how to get there, but I think young people have to remain engaged regardless of who the leadership is. There’s going to be a time when it’s a Republican again. Hopefully it’s further out in the future but there will be that time.
It’s important that we get moderate, informed, and intelligent individuals in government, in Congress, in the House, in the Senate. They can help inform the decisions that are being made. Someone once said a long time ago, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” Young people need to be at the table.