Earlier this summer, Gov. Josh Shapiro vetoed a program designed to help kids in the lowest-performing schools with state funds for tuition so they could attend better ones.
Shapiro had campaigned on school choice and hammered out an agreement with the Republican-majority state Senate for the $100,000 Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program. But the Democrat-controlled House opposed it, and Shapiro promised them he would use his line-item veto to strike it from the state budget.
Monday, Commonwealth Partners President and CEO Matt Brouillette announced his organization is now fielding a more than $10 million war chest to support candidates for the Pennsylvania House and Senate in 2024 who back school choice.
“Our supporters applaud the Pennsylvania Senate for making school choice a priority in the state budget,” said Brouillette. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania House Democrats and many Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have chosen to side with government unions over the interests of students and families. We look forward to electing lawmakers in 2024 who will put students’ interests above special interests. And that work has already begun.”
Brouillette said Shapiro received more than $5.5 million from government unions during the 2021-22 election cycle. Now unions have inked new contracts negotiated behind closed doors with the Shapiro administration. They include large pay raises and are projected to cost taxpayers $3.2 billion over the next four years.
Brouillette also called out House Leader Matthew Bradford (D-Worcester), saying he had blocked the “schoolhouse door for children deserving a better education” and received union support.
“Gov. Shapiro caved to his union campaign donors once by vetoing educational opportunity and then rewarded them with billions of dollars in new taxpayer-funded contracts,” Brouillette said. “We know we’re up against a special interest group that ultimately doesn’t care about kids. That’s why our supporters are investing significant resources to free children from unions’ failing schools.”
DVJournal asked Brouillette whether he was concerned that Shapiro would veto another school choice plan.
“Gov. Shapiro has repeatedly stated his support for school choice. He knows that rescuing kids from failing schools is the right thing to do, but union-owned lawmakers who control the House have thwarted him so far. We plan to remove that barrier so Shapiro will have no roadblock to keeping his word,” he said.
Asked about possible court challenges to voucher programs, Brouillette said, “School choice programs have been challenged many times. And time and again, courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld them. Those who challenge them are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of kids.”
On the question of whether having former President Donald Trump on the top of the ticket would hurt GOP efforts to pass legislation on state issues like school choice, Brouillette noted the election is more than a year away.
“I’ve said before that to win elections; the GOP needs to move beyond Trump and Trump-endorsed candidates. A lot can happen between now, and the presidential primaries, and my hope is that Republicans focus on nominating a candidate who not only fights for freedom but can also win in November.”
Gina Pope, a spokeswoman for Commonwealth Partners, said the sources of the funds will be revealed when it files the required campaign finance forms. Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs is a free-market advocacy organization.
Brouillette said parents and students can’t afford to wait for a change of heart in Harrisburg. “As our elected officials have not had a change of heart, it’s clear Pennsylvanians need a change in leadership. Our kids need an educational lifeline now. They can’t wait. If you stand with children, we will stand with you. But if you keep blocking the schoolhouse door, know that we plan to do everything we can to help children escape the unions’ worst schools in Pennsylvania.”
Neither Bradford nor Shapiro responded to requests for comment.