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.