inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

GIORDANO: Black Entertainers’ Backing May Drive School Choice Over the Finish Line

Rap star Jay-Z has not only voiced his support for $300 million in scholarship money from public funding in Pennsylvania, but he has taken concrete steps by organizing a series of events in Philadelphia to promote it. This high-profile endorsement, along with the backing of figures like Meek Mill, carries significant weight and makes it more challenging for the opposition to discredit the initiative.

It’s much harder for progressives, the “Abbott Elementary” show writers, and The Philadelphia Inquirer editors to villainize him than it is to attack Jeff Yass, the Pennsylvania billionaire who is a huge donor to scholarships for poor kids and a loud public voice for vouchers.

Jay-Z, Meek Mill and others realize a good education as the secret sauce to lift people out of poverty and reduce the number of young men of color committing crimes and going to prison. Dania Diaz, Jay-Z’s managing director of philanthropy, said of the initiative, “We want to empower the youth and families with the knowledge to pursue their scholastic dreams, make their voices heard and become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Diaz has also pointed out that the scheduled events will challenge the myth that the $300 million scholarship proposal would weaken funding for the state’s public schools because this is a separate line item. It was, in part, supported by Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro during last year’s budget battle.

As a parental rights advocate and a former teacher for over 20 years, I see this. A recent report on 2024 test scores across Pennsylvania public schools showed that 66 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 73 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math.

Those who support a system that produces these results expect us to believe that today’s historic public school spending levels are not nearly enough and that adding tens of billions to the spending will somehow produce results.

The crux of the matter is that Democratic Party officials are aligning with the teachers’ unions, disregarding the desires of parents to have the freedom to make the best educational decisions for their children.

The PSEA and other unions, as major Democratic Party donors, are instrumental in securing election victories. This dynamic perpetuates a system where students in underperforming public schools are essentially pawns traded for political gain.

The Center Square reported this week that dozens of Black pastors and other religious leaders sent an open letter to Shapiro urging him to support school choice and educational freedom. Black Pastors United for Education emphasized the need for parents and students to finally have educational freedom and opportunity.

In the Delaware Valley Journal, Taylor Millard reports that state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) doesn’t seem to want to address Black and Latino leaders calling for parental choice and at a recent education rally. Instead, Williams said school choice backers support White, Christian Nationalist goals. According to Millard, she said that supporters of choice “want to drive straight, White, able-bodied kids into private religious schools.” This form of attack is not all that uncommon. Williams just said the quiet part out loud. She represents the failing status quo that will not easily be dislodged.

As we approach the final budget negotiations, the crucial question remains: Will  Shapiro uphold his commitment to bring about some form of school choice? The support of influential figures like Jay-Z, Meek Mill, and other prominent African Americans, coupled with the advocacy of Republicans in Harrisburg, could significantly sway the outcome of this pivotal battle for educational freedom.

I think this time, the answer will be yes to these questions. The time is right to do the right thing, support parental rights, and give kids a real shot at a better future.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

 

PA Senate Dem: School Choice Backers Support White, Christian Nationalist Goals

A Pennsylvania Senate Democrat launched a tirade against school choice supporters at an education rally this week, accusing them of wanting to “drive straight, White, able-bodied kids into private religious schools.”

Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, accused voucher supporters of sharing the goals of the so-called Christian Nationalism movement: having “a country that favors evangelical Christian beliefs over all other beliefs.”

She also claimed public school spending was falling due to choice initiatives.

In fact, per pupil spending in Pennsylvania public schools has risen, even as choice opportunities have expanded. But Williams told a Harrisburg crowd that parental education choice was the enemy of public schools.

Williams told a group of teachers union members and Democratic activists in Harrisburg that while the voucher bills have various names, “they all do the same thing: They all take public money and put it in unaccountable private schools.”

“That’s not a secret. That’s the plan. It’s a plan to dismantle public education.”

School choice advocates dismissed what they called Williams’ outrageous attacks as par for the course.

“It’s pretty common to see these myths trotted out because that’s all they have,” said Marc LeBlond, director of state advocacy with the American Federation for Children. “It is impossible to defend trapping kids in schools that are failing them or making success in life dependent on ZIP code or income.”

Williams called out two groups by name: the Commonwealth Foundation and the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

“They have been defunding public schools by slashing education budgets. They have been in court fighting to prevent constitutionally required funding for our public schools,” Williams said. “All so that they can have a country that favors evangelical Christian beliefs over all other beliefs.”

Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield told DVJournal Williams has got the facts backward.

“Many private schools across Pennsylvania provide better options for low-income students, minority students, LGBTQ students, and special needs students,” Benenfield said.

Pennsylvania Family Institute Vice President for Policy Tom Shaheen said the institute works with thousands of families “from a variety of backgrounds.”

And the data show education choice benefits the very students Williams says she represents.

For example, a 2021 study published by GLSEN, a nonprofit that seeks to end bullying of LGBTQ+ students, said that public school students experience higher levels of bullying than private school students. Despite public schools having a more inclusive curriculum.

“Students thrive when their families are empowered to find the educational environment that best fits each of their children,” said Shaheen.

As for the claim choice is costing local public schools, per-pupil spending hit a record $22,000 this year, according to Benefield. He added districts squirreled away another $6.8 billion in taxpayer money in reserves.

While Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed $1.1 billion in new school funding in his budget, the Democratic-controlled House wants far more. On Monday, it passed a public school reform plan that would cost an additional $6 billion.

Supporters said the bill fixed funding disparity problems that a state judge called unconstitutional last year. State Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia) vowed HB 2370 would “reshape and transform the future” for all students and school districts in the state.

“We are sitting on a budget surplus of $15 billion.” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “We have the money! Now give it to the children! Put it in the schools!”

Shapiro called the bill a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to help kids and give them the chance to “chart their own course.”

The governor had previously supported school vouchers, including a choice program on his “unfinished business” list last November.

Republicans rejected the premise that surplus taxes collected by the state belong to politicians, arguing the money should go back to taxpayers.

The extra money isn’t enough for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, however. Union president Aaron Chapin said the funding was a “tremendous first step” to help student learning, but still just a step. He also pushed for increasing teacher and staff wages.

“We can’t offer students equitable education opportunities if we don’t have the staff available to provide instruction on programs,” he said.

School choice advocates said throwing money at a problem won’t work. They pointed to last year’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment results showing just 53.7 percent of students were proficient or above in English. That was a drop from the 61.4 percent proficiency in 2018. Math scores were 39.4 percent proficiency or above in 2023 compared to 42 percent in 2018 — all falling as school funding increased.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that the defenders of the status quo can only fall back on thoroughly debunked claims of ‘defunding’ and endless calls for more money,” said LeBlond.

He says school voucher opponents are too laser-focused on funding.

“As Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer noted in Pennsylvania’s School Funding ruling, ‘options for reform are virtually limitless,’ and reform is not required to be entirely financial.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

Will Dem McClelland’s Opposition to School Choice Win Her Treasurer’s Job?

Democratic state treasurer candidate Erin McClelland wants voters to know she’s “aggressively against school vouchers,” and she’s making her opposition to parental choice in education a centerpiece of her campaign.

“If vouchers are passed, it is the treasurer that writes the voucher. And I can assure you that if that goes through, we’re going to court, and we’re going to fight it on constitutional grounds, and I’ll write the voucher when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania tells me I have no choice,” McClelland said in a recent interview with abc27.

The debate over how much control Pennsylvania parents should have over their children’s education has been part of the state’s politics for decades. But such adamant opposition is rare from a statewide candidate.

It also shows a lack of understanding about the state treasurer’s job, says Jim Tkacik, campaign manager for incumbent GOP Treasurer Stacy Garrity.

“Erin McClelland is grandstanding. The treasurer’s job is to pay the bills and prudently oversee a $164 billion treasury. For Erin McClelland to suggest that she simply won’t sign treasury checks for programs she dislikes is reckless, illegal, and harmful to the state’s fiscal reputation. If Erin McClelland wants to oppose school choice, she should run for another office.”

It may also not be a winning issue for the Democratic challenger. Polls show that, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, support for school choice has soared. A March 2024 Commonwealth Foundation poll found 77 percent of Pennsylvania voters support Lifeline Scholarships, a state voucher program.

And education choice advocate Corey DeAngelis notes that “Morning Consult polling found 67 percent of Pennsylvania residents–and 74 percent of parents with school-age children–support school choice in the form of education savings accounts.”

“Gov. Josh Shapiro read the tea leaves. As I documented in my new book, ‘The Parent Revolution,’ Mr. Shapiro changed his education platform to include private school choice right before the 2022 election and even reiterated his support on Fox News last year. Joe Biden, who sent his own kids to private school, should follow Josh Shapiro’s lead if he wants to have a chance at winning Pennsylvania,” DeAngelis said.

Jenifer MacFarland. who is spearheading an effort to bring a classical charter school to the West Chester Area School District, said, “The ability for a parent to choose an educational program is critical to creating a highly educated society.  When parents have a choice in programs for their children, competition between the providers improves educational programs everywhere.

“Wealthy parents have always had the option to place their children in private schools, but with school choice through public charters and vouchers for private schools, all children and families, regardless of income,  have an opportunity to access high-quality educational opportunities for their children. Every voter who cares about children and improving educational outcomes for all kids should make it a point to vote their beliefs this Fall and make school choice a reality for the children, who are, after all, the future of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” MacFarland added.

Like most of her fellow Pennsylvania Democrats, McClelland dismisses the value of vouchers.

“I think that they are a very bad Band-Aid,” McClelland said. “That doesn’t solve the greater problem.”

“Sadly, Erin is taking a page from the national Democrats’ playbook: make every race about national politics and about virtue-signaling, whether you’re running for dogcatcher or treasurer,” retorted Republican Guy Ciarrocchi, who is on the board of Pennsylvania Families for Educational Choice.

“She has hit a new low as her target is school children, with a platform so extreme she doesn’t even agree with Gov. Shapiro. Thankfully for taxpayers, Stacy Garrity has done her job as state treasurer well—without partisan politics.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

PA Student Freedom Accounts Would Let Parents Choose Kids’ Schools

State Rep. Joe D’Orsie (R-York) held a press conference Monday introducing a bill to establish Student Freedom Accounts.

HB 1904 would allow parents to use their tax dollars to send their children to the school that best suits the child’s educational needs.

“It’s time to think outside the box,” said D’Orsie. “It’s time to follow the example of other states like Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and our neighbors to the west, Ohio and West Virginia. It’s time to shift our focus from a system that hasn’t served us well to the very students whose success will propel the future of our state. It’s time to deliver something that seven out of 10 Pennsylvanians want, from every political affiliation. It’s time for educational choice here and now. It’s time to deliver the best possible gift to our kids: the freedom to excel.”

The Student Freedom Account Act would tie state education funding to students rather than systems by allowing the state portion of district education funding to follow the student to their school of choice, according to House Republicans supporting the bill. The funds, which would be housed in individualized Student Freedom Accounts, would be used by students to attend the school of their choice, such as a parochial or charter school.

“The momentum around options for students has never been greater, which is why we stand here to provide students from across our state with much-needed options,” D’Orsie said.

Advocates for education choice note public school enrollment is down about six percent over the past decade, while per-pupil spending has risen to $21,300 per child. At the same time, test scores have languished.

“Every day, thousands of kids across Pennsylvania are deprived of educational opportunity because of state-mandated, union-backed, and ZIP code-based education discrimination,” said Matt Brouillette, Commonwealth Partners President and CEO. “It’s past time to rescue children from failing and violent schools, and we applaud Rep. D’Orsie and all the lawmakers who are fighting to free kids from union-controlled systems that set them up for failure and finally give kids a shot at an excellent education.”

One looming obstacle is a divided Pennsylvania legislature, with Democrats controlling the House and the Senate in GOP hands. Another obstacle is Gov. Josh Shapiro (D), who portrayed himself as an ally of education choice but vetoed the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success Scholarship Program (PASS) in August.

PASS would have expanded the state’s school choice offerings, which currently include the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and Education Improvement Tax Credit. Shapiro claimed at the time he wanted to “work with both chambers as we discuss additional programs to help our children, including PASS,” and choice supporters want to hold him to his word.

‘It was Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro who said, ‘Parents need to have the opportunity to put their children into the best place for them to succeed.’ Parents and students need more opportunities, not less. If we want more children to succeed, we need to position more parents to have access to new opportunities through efforts like Rep. D’Orsie’s Student Freedom Account Act, HB 1904,” said Dan Bartkowiak, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) did not respond to a request for comment on D’Orsie’s bill, which is in the education committee.

Former Rep. Andrew Lewis (R-Dauphin), who authored a universal school choice bill in 2021, spoke at the press conference.

“It saddens me, and frankly, it’s infuriating that there are politicians in this building who preach educational equality, but they would vote to lock families in failed public schools while they send their own kids to exclusive private schools,” said Lewis. “It’s elitism. It’s morally reprehensible. It’s hypocrisy. And It’s wrong. I don’t know how they look themselves in the mirror. We have to reverse this mentality of denying opportunity to the many while embracing choice to the few who can afford it. We need to bring that opportunity to every kid in Pennsylvania.”

 

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

D’ORSIE: It’s Time for Educational Choice in PA

If the adoption of universal educational choice was based solely on public support, we’d have it here in Pennsylvania. A comfortable majority of voters, and an even more lopsided majority of parents of school-age kids, support every form of educational choice here in the Commonwealth, from tax credit scholarships all the way up to universal choice.

So, what’s holding it back? It’s my assessment that the only obstacle to choice in our state is money (and its effects): power, control, and politics. That lethal combo is being wielded by groups who want to desperately cling to their educational monopoly, which is devoid of accountability, at the expense of our kids. That’s tragic.

I’ve heard it said that educational choice is a modern-day human rights issue. I couldn’t agree more. When we prioritize antiquated systems over the educational freedom of young people, we not only get bad results, but we also go as far as to taint futures and negatively affect destinies.  The tired talking points that focus on money and often fail to even mention kids need to finally die and we need to come together in the defense of our kids in Pennsylvania. There is no greater gift that we can give a child than the freedom to excel.  Educational excellence is within reach for Pennsylvania kids. We just need to think and act outside the proverbial box.

But thinking outside the box is not the same as starting from scratch. We aren’t roaming along in the dark without our way on universal educational choice. Pennsylvania, despite our EITC/OSTC programs, and our attempt at PASS, is far behind many other states. Our neighbors to the west, Ohio and West Virginia, have robust educational choice programs available to every child; and several politically purple states like North Carolina and Arizona (the nation’s ESA progenitor) have gotten universal choice done. Other states like Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Utah have followed suit. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we’re following the sound of educational freedom… if we act.

Why Educational Choice?

In a nutshell, we need choice because it’s the only just and sensible way forward for K-12 PA kids. If kids wrongly trapped in bottom performing schools isn’t enough, consider simply children who learn differently, children who have a specialized skill and wish to focus on it, or highly talented musicians or athletes who enjoy the flexibility of say, a cyber experience. From tragic cases to cases of preference and convenience, every child/parent deserves the precious chance to excel. But let’s break it down further.

More money (a lot more) isn’t translating into better student outcomes. Although more and more tax dollars are being pumped into public education each year, to the tune of $21,300 per pupil currently, there is no evidence that there is a direct or substantive positive effect on student outcomes. In fact, about 2/3 of Pennsylvania fourth graders at the time that I write are not proficient in reading. Using this figure and an abundance of others, you could actually make a cogent case that more public funding is doing the converse.

Enrollment drops while funding soars and districts add administration. Over the last ten or so years, public school enrollment has dropped by about 6 percent, and that trend is not going away. Meanwhile, districts in PA are rapidly adding staff, particularly administrators, while teacher salaries have stagnated for decades.

Numerous studies show that choice programs positively impact test results, parent favorability, school security, and fiscal considerations. According to an exhaustive report by EdChoice, the overwhelming positive impact of choice can’t be dismissed.

The bottom line is that educational choice works and each false prophecy aimed at halting choice has not panned out in any of the states that have programs. It doesn’t harm public schools, it doesn’t take money from public schools, it doesn’t neglect rural kids, and it doesn’t leave special education kids behind. Lying hasn’t preserved public school monopolies in Arizona, Florida, and Ohio and it shouldn’t in the Keystone state.

That’s where the Student Freedom Account Act comes into play in Pennsylvania. Rather than appropriating billions in unaccountable funds that disappear in our school districts, let’s empower parents to use their tax dollars to send their kids to the school of their choice.

My bill would accomplish that by establishing accounts that are administered and managed by the Treasurer’s watchful eye, finally allowing parents to apply their tax dollars to curriculum, methods, and resources that they know work best for their child. To continue to do nothing and throw more money at a system that hasn’t worked for families each year without offering alternative options is disastrous. Now is the time to shift our attention off of ourselves and onto our kids. They deserve choice, their parents deserve choice, but most importantly, they deserve the freedom to excel. Help us get this done for our next generation.

 

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

OPINION: PASS Scholarships: A Crucial Investment in Pennsylvania’s Future

At the heart of education is a promise: the promise of opportunity, growth, and a brighter future.

Yet, for countless students in Pennsylvania’s consistently lowest-performing schools, this promise remains elusive, trapped behind the barriers of geographic limitations, economic restrictions, or limited access to quality instruction.

The reality in many parts of the state, like Philadelphia, is that students and parents desperately want better educational opportunities for their kids. Parents with students in the bottom 15% performing public schools in Pennsylvania often grapple with challenges that hinder the delivery of quality education. These challenges can include overcrowded classrooms, an increased presence of violence, and a need for more educators.

The House Republican Policy Committee recently convened to hear about school choice from eager parents and educators speaking on behalf of students looking for real change to a broken and outdated education system.

The change they advocated for was the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) scholarship program, a bipartisan policy initiative that would serve as a transformative solution granting families the opportunity to select the educational curriculum most suitable for their child’s needs. Access to these scholarship dollars and more educational choices further empowers parents as they take an active role in their child’s education, fostering a sense of ownership and partnership between families and schools.

Introducing competition and encouraging innovation, PASS scholarships will be a catalyst for positive change. Students will have the freedom to leave underperforming schools instead of being trapped in a one-size-fits-all, government-run system. Schools, both private and public, will be competing to attract students by improving curriculum, engaging parents, creating a 21st century learning environment and prioritizing the well-being of their students.

Special interests who oppose the program have argued falsely that PASS scholarships divert resources away from struggling schools, exacerbating their challenges. The truth is that funding for a PASS scholarship program would come from a separate state account while also preserving full funding for traditional K-12 public education.

At one of the Republican Policy Committee hearings, a mother from Philadelphia made a point to mention she is a Democrat and this issue goes beyond party lines. She testified that, if implemented, this program would force schools to “up their game…and hold their schools accountable.” By embracing competition in education, we create a system where schools are driven to excel, breaking the cycle of underperforming institutions, and where the students are the ultimate winners, gaining access to more diverse and innovative learning opportunities.

Pennsylvania has a unique opportunity to lead the way in innovation in education by embracing PASS scholarships as a powerful and life-changing solution for those who need it most.

As the Pennsylvania House of Representatives returns to session and legislators fill the capitol, they have an opportunity to pass a bipartisan school choice initiative that will have a positive generational impact. Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro promised to support the program during his campaign and now is the time to deliver on that promise for the next generation of Pennsylvania.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

Commonwealth Partners Pledge Millions to Support Pro School Choice Candidates

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.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

Some Hope Legislature, Governor May Yet Approve School Choice Program

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s flip-flop on a school voucher program to help children in the bottom 15 percent of Pennsylvania’s public schools stalled the state budget, disappointing many parents looking forward to sending their kids to better schools.

Fifteen U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have active school voucher programs. School choice programs, including charter schools or tax credit scholarships, are available in 18 other states.

Pennsylvania might have become the 16th state with a school voucher program this summer. However, in early July, Shapiro announced he would line-item veto the $100 million Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) school voucher program from the budget. The governor cited the impasse between the House and Senate for his decision. But critics say he caved to teachers union demands, perhaps with an eye on his political future.

School voucher advocates say Shapiro should have honored his campaign promise and approved the PASS program.

“I think he has the votes to support it in the House…if he would have actually pushed for it,” said Nate Benefield, senior vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation. “He kind of wanted to make it easy, but in reality, made it difficult. I think it was a miscalculation on his part.”

Benefield said Shapiro needs to be “a strong leader” on the school voucher issue like he was during the 2022 campaign.

“He’s been consistent on supporting educational choice,” Benefield acknowledged. “But there is a difference…as governor saying “‘Hey, this is something I support’…and getting it done.”

Shapiro, for his part, said he still wants school vouchers to become a reality for Pennsylvania parents and students.

“I consider it to be unfinished business, something the House and Senate need to keep working on,” the Democrat told an audience in Penn Hills last week. “I think it’s important that we fully fund our schools and we give children who are struggling in difficult situations more opportunity to learn.”

The veto did not sit well with some House Republicans.

“Why is the governor breaking his promise to the children and people of Pennsylvania? Because he buckled to a small group of radical Democrat representatives who prioritized special interests and their own jobs over what’s right for our kids.” wrote Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) in DVJournal.

“We know one year of learning loss can translate into thousands of dollars in lost lifetime earnings,” White said about the massive disruptions in education during the pandemic. “We know two out of three Pennsylvanians support school choice for students in the worst performing schools. We know we need education options for parents and students now.”

Observers say school vouchers is an issue that isn’t going away.

“What side blinks first?” said Benefield. “Senate Republicans have basically said this is part of the deal. If the Democrats want funding for billion dollars in programs that don’t have authorization language, they need to go along with this. House Democrats have yet to blink on that.”

“Senate Republicans took Gov. Shapiro at his word when he promised to support Lifeline Scholarships (the first name for PASS) in the budget,” said Commonwealth Partners president and CEO Matt Brouillette. “Kids trapped in failing schools hope they can count on him this time to deliver on his promise to rescue them.”

Others portray the school voucher issue as more of a “when,” not if scenario.

“Pennsylvania is one of several states where school choice has passed or expanded with bipartisan support and even divided government,” said Tommy Schultz, CEO American Federation for Children, who sees school vouchers as an issue of parents taking control of their child’s education. “Empowering families should not be a partisan issue; in fact, a super-majority of every political party and demographic – including 66 percent of Democrats in a recent poll – support it. Democratic party leaders who have chosen to represent the unions instead of their constituents on this issue do so at their own political peril.”

“The fact is that families want more agency over their K-12 experience, and the demand for options is only growing stronger,” said Aaron Garth Smith, director of education reform for the Reason Foundation. Smith commented that Shapiro knows parents support school choice. “His tone has certainly been more productive than many other Democrats across the country, so hopefully, they can strike a deal that gives parents what they want.

“Education choice isn’t about public schools vs. private schools—it’s letting parents decide what’s best for their kids. Public schools work great for many kids, but others need something different,” said Smith.

Smith sees the current push towards school choice as something that completely changes how education is viewed in the U.S.

“The pandemic was the tipping point that led to the school choice moment. What we’re witnessing is fundamentally changing public education for the better at a breathtaking pace. Decades from now, I think we’ll look back and say that school choice was the most important issue coming out of the pandemic. It’s changing how we think about education,” said Smith.

The legislature will return in mid-September.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

COLEMAN: Shapiro Sold Out Students

Actions speak louder than words in politics and almost everything else in life. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent actions tell the story of a politician who sold out parents and students to appease special interests.

Too many students in Pennsylvania are trapped in underperforming schools. Regardless of how hard these students try or how much their parents care, these children are unlikely to receive the quality education they deserve simply because they are trapped in the school district their address dictates, the address their parents can afford.

 

Many of these students live in low-income households. Their parents cannot afford to send them to a different school. These children lack access to the educational opportunities that are their birthright as residents of Pennsylvania.

My colleagues in the state Senate and I heard their stories, and we acted. We included $100 million in this year’s state budget to create a new program specifically designed to help these children. This $100 million is on top of the historic increase in education funding. Yes, that is right, the Senate budget increased public school funding by historic levels, the highest levels of public school funding in the state’s history. Shapiro acknowledged this fact in his press conference on the budget passed by the Senate. So saying the Senate is not doing enough to fund public education is simply not true, a point the governor acknowledged.

The Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program money is new and not taken from any existing state program or service. This funding would be in addition to the record levels of state support for education already included in this year’s budget. To reiterate, the budget passed by the Senate spends more money on public education than any budget in Pennsylvania state history. Vetoing the PASS program provides ZERO additional dollars for public schools and only penalizes the students who can least afford it.

The new PASS program would provide scholarships of up to $15,000 to students in low-income households living in underperforming school districts.

Low-income households would be defined as those earning 250% or less of the federal poverty threshold, which would be $75,000 for a family of four. Underperforming school districts would include the lowest 15% of school districts based on performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.

During his campaign for governor last year, Shapiro supported these scholarships, saying, “I’m for making sure we give parents the ability [to] put their kids in the best situation for them to be able to succeed.”

The governor’s actions, unfortunately, undermine his words. When the Senate approved, and the House agreed to a state budget bill including the $100 million for these new scholarships, Shapiro promised to eliminate the funding from the final budget he plans to sign into law.

The governor promised to kill the program after he received pressure from powerful teachers’ unions and other liberal special interest groups.

The famous American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Your actions speak so loud, I cannot hear what you are saying.” Pennsylvanians find themselves being deafened by Shapiro’s callous disregard for the educational opportunities many families are desperate for to give their children a chance for a brighter future.

Pennsylvania parents and students have heard Shapiro, but more importantly, they are seeing his actions. The governor’s veto destroys this program single-handedly, and slams closed the door of educational opportunity for these low-income students. PASS funds students, not failing systems.

First, their schools failed them. Now their governor is failing them.

Pennsylvania parents and students deserve a governor whose actions are as admirable as his words.

 

 

 

SLADE-BOWERS: School Choice is a Political Football for PA Politicians; For Me, It was a Lifesaver.

In Pennsylvania, quality education is a privilege for some and a failed campaign promise for others.

While many were busy preparing for the July 4th festivities, Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro pledged to veto a budget item that would have offered school choice scholarships to low-income students attending the worst 15 percent of public schools in Pennsylvania – after pledging his support during his 2022 campaign.

When I heard the news, I was deeply disappointed, not just as a voter or constituent but also as a former student whose life was changed forever because of school choice programs in Pennsylvania.

Growing up, I benefited from the PA Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which made it possible for my family to afford private school. My mother knew exactly what I needed to succeed in my education, and recognized how ill-prepared our local public school was to meet my specific needs. My brother and I were born with a rare eye condition that stunted our academic achievement and made it difficult to perform on the same level as our classmates. Knowing that the system we were in would leave us behind, our mother sacrificed to ensure that we would have the same chance at a successful life as those more fortunate.

During my sophomore year of high school, my mother was devastated to tell me that I would need to leave my private school for financial reasons. I thought the life I had envisioned for myself was gone – until I received a school choice scholarship. This program allowed me to continue receiving an education that fit my needs, and now I advocate for other families to have the same opportunity.

Unfortunately, that opportunity is still limited in my home state, and too many students in Pennsylvania remain on waiting lists or unable to afford the chance that changed my life.

The Pennsylvania Award for Student Success [PASS] program would have created more scholarships for students on a first-come, first-served basis. Qualifying families would have to live in underperforming school districts and be subject to an income cap of 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Scholarship awards would only be permitted for educational expenses such as tuition, tutoring, and school supplies.

When running for Governor, and again recently, Shapiro touted his support for this program, correctly explaining that it would benefit the Commonwealth’s neediest students. But facing backlash from political allies, primarily teachers’ unions who feared losing their monopoly over the state’s children, Shapiro promised to kill the $100 million voucher program with a line-item veto, saying it was necessary to pass the state’s $45.5 billion budget.

Shapiro caved to the teachers’ unions and Democratic party leadership who asked him to put party politics over the needs of students like me.

School choice is enormously popular among voters, both around the country and in Pennsylvania. New polling from Real Clear Opinion Research shows that 71 percent of registered voters support school choice. Support is also strong among Governor Shapiro’s Democratic constituents, with 66 percent of Democrats in support, as well as 80 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Independents saying they support education freedom.

Gov. Shapiro still has the opportunity to keep his promises and put students first. He could sign the budget without vetoing the program, or he could come back next year and champion an even more robust scholarships program. Time will tell, but the governor should recognize that school choice is only growing in popularity, and Pennsylvanians are watching.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal