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ROSICA: Black Pastors Call on Shapiro to Enact Lifeline Scholarships

(This column first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Black pastors from across the state held a press conference at the Capitol this week, calling on Governor Shapiro to “courageously lead us beyond the toxic, bipartisan politics and preferences that undermine a quality education for every child in Pennsylvania.”

Led by the Black Pastors United for Education, a network of non-sectarian, bipartisan pastors and congregations, the group’s founder, Reverend Joshua C. Robertson, presented an open letter to the Governor, signed by sixty pastors across the Commonwealth.

The rotunda was filled with pastors, parents, and students for the press conference where Rev. Robertson passionately called on lawmakers to put politics aside and focus on children and their education.

“Lawmakers should not be beholden to unions, school districts, special interest groups, lobbyists, and beyond. We need lawmakers to put Pennsylvania students at the center of their decision.”


Robertson then read the letter to Governor Shapiro asking him to fully fund public schools, enact Lifeline scholarships for children in the state’s lowest performing schools, and oppose cuts to public cyber charter schools.

The letter details the three requests:

  1. Fully and properly fund our public schools. We want to be part of a robust conversation that includes several groups and results in a multi-year strategy and commitment to properly invest, sustain, and secure funding for our public schools. We recognize the need for high-quality traditional public schools.
  2. Enact Lifeline Scholarships for children in Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools. These scholarships open doors, provide access, extend relief, and empower our communities to build schools and education environments that work for our kids.
  3. Oppose cuts to public cyber charter schools. In Pennsylvania, public charter schools and cyber charter schools educate and serve a higher percentage of low-income and non-white students than traditional school districts. Our parents are choosing cyber charter schools as the only free alternative educational option for their children.

In an interview after the event, Robertson elaborated on the requests in the letter. Specifically on the call for fully funding public schools, he said, “money doesn’t solve everything. We need to change the pedagogy of teaching because it is not currently working for many students.”

He and his coalition want to change the way that schools are teaching to ensure that students are prepared for a career, the military, or college. Robertson wants to be part of a “robust conversation” to address the fact that approximately half of Pennsylvania students are not proficient in reading and math.

Black Pastors United for Education are immediately focused on the students in the lowest performing schools. Robertson said that they “need to stop the bleeding.” He described a recent incident in Harrisburg where a nineteen-year-old pregnant woman was shot and killed. In his words, “education plays a direct role.”

A recent high school graduate spoke at the press conference about the impact of educational freedom in her life. She, too, worried about the violence and bullying in the public school system and thrived in the Rock City Learning Center, run by Reverend Robertson’s church. The young woman is headed to college in the Fall.

Robertson also said that it is imperative that charter school funding is not cut. For families who cannot afford private schools, charter and cyber charter schools are the only affordable option. He acknowledged that the system for funding charter schools may need to be addressed, but the answer is not cutting the funding.

He challenged public schools to offer an education that parents want.

Almost a year ago, Governor Shapiro declared, “every child of God deserves a quality education.” Despite his sentiments, he yielded his power to veto the Lifeline Scholarships, newly branded as the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS).

Speculations remain whether Shapiro and other Democrats were beholden to the special interest groups that Robertson mentioned.

Now, the governor has another opportunity to fulfill his campaign promises, and more importantly, ensure that every child has access to a quality education regardless of their zip code.

Let’s hope for the sake of our children that Shapiro puts “toxic politics” aside and grants “every child of God a quality education.”