Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro Abandons Push for School Vouchers Pennsylvania Spotlight

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This article has been updated to reflect Gov. Josh Shapiro’s statement confirming earlier reporting by Spotlight PA.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Josh Shapiro said he plans to end the promotion of private school vouchers in Pennsylvania’s state budget five days after the deadline to finalize a deal with a split Congress.

Democrats issued a statement on Wednesday acknowledging that talks have stalled over the $100 million coupon program they endorse and which state Senate Republicans passed as part of the budget bill last week. Democratic leadership in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives opposed the voucher and had refused to act on the Senate bill.

Shapiro’s solution, he said, is to promise state House Democrats that if they pass the Senate budget, they will invoke an item veto on vouchers from the $45.5 billion spending plan.

“Our Commonwealth should not find itself in a painful, prolonged budget stalemate while communities await the aid and resources that this common-sense budget provides,” Shapiro said in a statement.

Spotlight PA previously reported the existence of Shapiro’s plans to cut vouchers from the budget agreement.

In a statement, Mr. Shapiro said House Democrats told the administration over the weekend that the voucher program, which was passed as part of the budget, could not go into effect without a separate enabling law — a piece of legislation that House Democrats could potentially implement. It said it had requested a legal memo confirming that. block.

“I am aware that both houses will not reach agreement on legislation at this time.” [the voucher program]”And since I’m not going to put the entire budget process on hold on this issue, I’m issuing an item veto against the full appropriation of $100 million, which will not be part of this budget,” Shapiro said. said Mr.

In a letter to state Senate Republicans seen by Spotlight PA, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) said Wednesday that the House will take Shapiro at his word.

“The governor had assurances that he had neither legal authority nor intention to proceed with the plan, [vouchers] At this point, the House will consider: [the Senate budget bill] By agreement later today,” Mr Bradford wrote.

The voucher program will fund private school scholarships for underperforming public school district students.

the agreement containing it passed the state senate 29-21 Friday’s plan included key Democrat priorities, including increased funding for education, making school breakfast universally free, and funding for the first time in federal history. public defense. But Democrats viewed vouchers as poison.

When they passed the plan last week, state Senate Republican leaders made it clear their support hinged on whether the vouchers were included, with interim Senate Speaker Kim Ward (R, Westmoreland) speaking to reporters. , he said any plans that didn’t include vouchers would be scrapped. Must have “another number”.

Shapiro’s new move is premised on continued support from Democrats in the state House of Representatives, meaning the proposed plan does not need to be returned to the Senate, thus sidestepping Republican input in the Senate. Republican leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Bradford said House Democrats are in favor of Shapiro’s plan, but caucus members said Wednesday they would approve the vouchered budget and rely on the governor to repeal it. I expressed my doubts about the plan all day long.

“There is not much trust among people [Democratic] ‘, one House Democrat, requesting anonymity, told Spotlight PA about the ongoing budget negotiations.

The governor has the power to selectively veto individual expenditures while leaving the rest of the budget untouched. The power was last used in 2021 by former Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe. line item rejected Additional funding for state comptrollers claimed by legislative Republicans It was to fund election audits.

Members of the state House and Senate can override the governor’s veto if they gather the support of two-thirds of the House. Republicans in the Senate, which passed the budget last week with less than two-thirds majority and the support of only one Democrat, are unlikely to change course.

The deal will increase spending by about 5% from last year, with most of the new money going toward education, a Democratic priority. But the state has about $12 billion in cash reserves, and Democrats were hoping for an even bigger increase given what follows. court rulings earlier this year It turned out that the state was under-funding poor school districts in violation of the Constitution.

The deal also did not include action on many of the Democratic Party’s other priorities. minimum wage increase and LGBTQ non-discrimination measures.

Vouchers emerged as a budget issue in the weeks leading up to the federal deadline of June 30.

The Shapiro administration began speculation on the issue when Education Secretary Khalid Moomin said: told the state Senate in a written question and answer session. Mr. Shapiro said he supports the vouchers “as long as they don’t affect school district funding.” Shapiro then doubled down, Appeared on Fox News Reiterate your support for the voucher program.

The sudden focus on the vouchers sparked a strong backlash against Shapiro from labor unions across Pennsylvania, particularly the federally politically and financially powerful teachers’ union.

Broad Federation of Labor Organizations I sent a letter to Shapiro urged him to reconsider. Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania Education Association, said the association had “clearly” told Shapiro that the union had not turned its back on the vouchers, and was “incredibly disappointed.” said.

At the same time, the voucher also gained support from an equally broad group of school choice advocates—those who believe that a range of education options should be state-funded, not just public schools.

Groups with wealthy followers launch a barrage of voucher-promoting TV ads, letter supporting the voucher Prominent conservatives such as Grover Norquist and former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, as well as music industry luminaries with Philadelphia ties such as rapper Meek Mill and talent manager Troy Carter. I went to Mr. Shapiro with a signature.

Amidst the uproar, Republicans in the state Senate approved the bill. $45.5 billion budget pact It said it negotiated in close consultation with Shapiro. This included his $100 million funding for a program that came to be known as the Pennsylvania Student Success Awards (PASS) program.

This program provides students with:poor gradesSchool districts will be offered scholarships between $2,500 and $15,000 on a first-come, first-served basis. The income limit will be less than 250%. Federal Poverty GuidelinesThis means, for example, that a family of four must earn less than $75,000 a year to be eligible. Students awarded the scholarship may only use the money for nonpublic school tuition or related expenses.

Democratic leadership in the state legislature has drawn a line and vowed to reject a voucher program submitted to the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) told reporters on Friday he believed the voucher problem was over.

At a press conference after the vote, state Senate Republicans made it clear that budgets and lifeline scholarships are inherently linked and that they intend to streamline the budget pact without funding for scholarships.

Going forward, House Democrats will “carefully consider and consider additional education options” that are priorities for Republicans, including the PASS program and two existing programs that give tax breaks to businesses, Shapiro said in a statement Wednesday. He said he had taken his promise. Fund private school scholarships.

Shapiro added that Bradford wrote a letter directly to Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R, Indiana) making the promise.

In that letter, seen by Spotlight PA, Bradford reaffirmed that state House Democrats “do not agree” on whether vouchers are the best way to improve Pennsylvania’s schools. .

But he said, “While this year’s budget will not include any voucher proposals, I ask you and Governor Shapiro to take the time to review and seriously consider the validity and constitutionality of any such proposals. I promise,” he added.

Bradford told the chairs of the House Democratic Appropriations Committee and School Committee, “We will hold extensive joint hearings on education funding and discuss, among other things, existing and potential additional options, the PASS program and scholarship tax credits. We will consider,” he said.

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