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.