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Republicans Denounce Shapiro’s ‘Broken Promise’ on Scholarship Program

Pennsylvania Republicans accused Gov. Josh Shapiro of breaking his campaign promises and backing out of a deal to support a scholarship program designed to give low-income children an alternative to poorly-performing schools.

“Senate Republicans worked in good faith with Gov. Shapiro for nearly two months, making concessions and giving him all the goodies he wanted with his promise to work with his party and bring PASS scholarships across the finish line,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward. “PASS scholarships have passed both the House and Senate. The outstanding question is, will Gov. Shapiro deliver on his promise, or will he leave Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable kids trapped in failing schools?

“The truth is there was a deal, regardless of what Gov. Shapiro says publicly, and he knows there was a deal,” Ward added.

At issue is $100 million in the state’s new $45.5 billion budget for the Lifeline Scholarship program (now called the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success, or PASS). Shapiro made national headlines two weeks ago when he announced his support for the plan. Now he blames Senate Republicans for not getting the Democratic-controlled House to agree to back the policy.

“House Democrats made it clear it would not pass their chamber, particularly with the Senate’s unwillingness to advance more of the House’s priorities,” Shapiro said at a press conference on Thursday.

As a candidate for governor, Shapiro told parents worried about poor public school performance during the COVID-19 lockdowns that he was a different kind of Democrat.

“School choice is not an ‘either or,’ Shapiro said last fall. “I think this is a ‘both and.’ I think we can invest in public education and empower parents to put their kids in the best opportunity for them to succeed, and I don’t think we have to harm public schools in the process.”

Now he says he is unwilling to hold up the remainder of the budget, which contains many of his priorities, for the sake of the scholarships. House Democrats only agreed to pass the budget thanks to Shapiro’s pledge to line-item-veto the $100 million in scholarship funds.

School choice proponents were outraged.

“Senate Democrats, House Democrats, and Gov. Shapiro did the children of Pennsylvania a great disservice by stopping PASS,” said Cody Harbaugh, executive director of the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRCC). “Subjecting children to failing schools with no other options is wrong.”

National school choice leader Corey DeAngelis had praised Shapiro in the past for his willingness to break with his fellow Democrats on the scholarship issue.

“Josh Shapiro went on Fox News with Dana Perino on June 23, less than two weeks ago, supporting private school choice. He has since turned his back on parents and voters,” DeAngelis said. “This is a bad political calculation by Josh Shapiro. More than 70 percent of parents with school-age children support school choice in Pennsylvania.

“This line-item veto of the school choice proposal he included in his platform is a slap in the face to voters,” DeAngelis added.

Both DeAngelis and Harbaugh also noted many of the Democrats who opposed allowing poor families to use PASS to escape low-performance public schools send their own children to private schools. That includes Shapiro.

“Worse yet are the Senate and House Democrats who opposed this legislation, when they went to private school themselves or send their kids to private school,” Harbaugh said. “Their hypocrisy is a slap in the face to families in underperforming school districts. These hypocrites represent the worst of Harrisburg.”

Philadelphia Democratic Sens. Christine Tartaglione and Sen.  Jimmy Dillon, who attended parochial schools themselves, did not address the hypocrisy issue.

“The budget is supposed to reflect our commonwealth’s moral priorities and aspirations for the future. The bill we voted on (June 30) does nothing to move Pennsylvania forward,” said Tartaglione.

And some 20 percent of Senate Democrats voted against the scholarship program despite benefitting from private education themselves, according to the SRCC.

Several DelVal Republican House members voted for the Democrat-approved budget despite Shapiro’s reversal.

“I voted for the budget in the hope that Gov. Josh Shapiro would decide to keep his original word and not line-item veto the Lifeline Scholarships,” said Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia). “I also wanted to prevent another budget impasse that would hurt seniors, children, and those dependent on human services. Since this budget supports our schools and programs for mental health, it’s good for all Pennsylvanians.”

Bucks County Reps. Joe Hogan and Shelby Labs, who voted for the budget, declined to answer questions about their decision to back the Democrats’ budget. Reps. KC Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) and Donna Scheuren (R-Harleysville) have yet to respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) laid the entire blame for the scholarship failure at the feet of the governor.

“Let’s be crystal clear about what transpired over the past several weeks. We negotiated and reached an agreement with Governor Shapiro.

“The Governor informed the House Majority Leader that he and his team would negotiate directly with Senate Republicans to get the final deal. Governor Shapiro’s responsibility was to get House Democrats on board with the deal he negotiated.

He failed spectacularly, and then gutted our agreement. He took the first escape hatch he could find to avoid taking the blame for his failure to lead. It is unconscionable that the governor backed out of our negotiated agreement.”

House Republican Appropriation Chairman Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said Shapiro’s failure to keep his promise on the Lifeline Scholarships “will result in complete lack of trust between House and Senate Republicans and House Democrats and the governor.”

“House Democrats may pat themselves on the back for stopping $100 million in funding for children stuck in failing school districts,” said Grove. “House Democrats may laud themselves for passing a budget that spends 6 percent over the prior year’s budget, but make no mistake. This is not a complete 2023-24 budget. Completing this task with such deceptive tactics in state government will be extremely difficult.

“Make no mistake. House Republicans will continue fighting for fiscal sanity and children trapped in failing schools,” Grove added.


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Wolf Calls For Special Session to Extend Childhood Sex Assault Victims’ Time to Sue

In the waning days of his administration, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called for a special legislative session to add a constitutional amendment for sexual abuse survivors to the May ballot.

That amendment would retroactively extend the timeline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits. Currently, victims of child sexual assault have until they are 30 years old to sue.

While Wolf has the backing of fellow Democrats, including House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), Republicans deem it unnecessary.

“For far too many Pennsylvanians, justice and healing for the pain they’ve experienced is out of reach,” said Wolf. “This special session is a critical step to allow the General Assembly to focus their work on this important, and potentially life-saving, task. No survivor should be denied the chance to hold their abuser accountable, regardless of how much time has passed.”

However, in 2021, Wolf’s Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned after her department failed to advertise the same constitutional amendment so it could be on the ballot that May.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) issued the following statement to say a special session is not needed.

“In August, the Senate reaffirmed with Gov. Wolf our commitment to take the next step in the constitutional amendment process for victims of childhood sexual abuse in this legislative session, just as we have in previous legislative sessions, and consistent with the multiple legislative actions already taken to protect children and families.

“Gov. Wolf’s call of a special session a week before his term ends is an attempt by him to prioritize one issue while there are equally important issues that deserve the same consideration among the voters.

“The Senate has fully organized our chamber for the 2023-2024 legislative session and has put in place a robust session schedule, during which we plan to consider several constitutional amendments in the normal course of the legislative session. It is imperative that we work together to ensure constitutional amendments for voter identification, legislative review of regulations, election audits, and statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors can all be presented to voters. A special session is unnecessary to address constitutional amendments,” they said.

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler agreed.

“It is understandable that Gov. Wolf would want to call for this special session as soon as possible given the election of Pennsylvania’s first Independent speaker of the House and the governor’s desire to make up the Department of State’s failures that led to justice being delayed to many survivors of child sexual abuse.

“However, it is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth to do this work in special session, where we are required to only work on a single issue,” Cutler said.

Wolf’s proclamation was welcomed by Rozzi, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

“For the last 10 years, I have fought this battle as a rank-and-file member. Promises have been made. Hope has been raised. But time after time, at the end of the day, for whatever reason, justice has been denied,” said Rozzi. “We are on a tight timeline. Pursuant to our constitution, this amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by the first week of February to be placed on the May primary ballot. If we are late, we risk this life-saving amendment not being placed on the ballot until the November general election.”

The House will not consider any other legislation first, he said.

Nicole Reigelman, a spokesperson for House Democrats, said they support Wolf.

“The House Democratic Caucus applauds Gov. Wolf and Speaker Rozzi for ensuring that this overdue measure receives swift action so that it can be put before the voters in May,” she said.

“Now is the time to stand together and send a clear message: childhood sexual abuse will not be tolerated in our c, commonwealth, and survivors will have the support they need to find justice,” added Wolf.

Wolf and legislative leaders agreed last August that the constitutional amendment process is the best path forward, he said.

“My friends, it is now 2023.  We’ve talked the talk – now it’s time to walk the walk, together, one last time, for the victims of childhood sexual abuse,” said Rozzi.

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