Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro abandoned his prior request for a $100 million educational vouchers initiative within the state budget following strong resistance from teachers unions and fellow Democrats.
Despite receiving support from the Republican-controlled state Senate, the voucher program encountered a roadblock in the Democratic state House. Although the budget encompassed various Democratic priorities, such as augmented education spending and state funding for legal defense (Pennsylvania being the sole state that lacks public defender funding, which is instead shouldered by its counties), the voucher program encountered vehement opposition from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. This opposition resulted in a delay of the state budget beyond its June 30 cutoff, prompting Shapiro to retract his support.
“Our Commonwealth should not be plunged into a painful, protracted budget impasse while our communities wait for the help and resources this commonsense budget will deliver,” Shapiro said. “Knowing that the two chambers will not reach consensus at this time to enact [the voucher program], and unwilling to hold up our entire budget process over this issue, I will line-item veto the full $100 million appropriation and it will not be part of this budget bill,” Shapiro said.
In the 2022 gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania, school choice emerged as a significant concern, ranking second only to crime. The state's own evaluations revealed that in 2021, a staggering 78% of Grade 8 students lacked proficiency in math, while 47% were not proficient in language arts.
During the early days of September, relatively late in the campaign period, Shapiro diverged from the majority of Democrats by expressing his support discreetly for “adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.”
The Republican candidate, Doug Mastriano, presented his own voucher program during the campaign, which would have resulted in substantial reductions in education spending. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) strongly criticized Mastriano's proposal, referring to it as “devastating.”
Shapiro advocated for the Lifeline Scholarship program, which aimed to provide $7,000 education vouchers to students from underperforming public schools, enabling them to attend a school of their family's choosing, including private schools. While the proposal garnered support from Republicans and select Democrats representing districts with struggling public schools, it faced strong opposition from the majority of state Democrats, as well as teachers unions and other interest groups.
“PSEA is absolutely opposed to ‘lifeline scholarships’ or any other tuition voucher scheme,” Richard Askey, president of the PSEA, said in June, referring to a Pennsylvania court's ruling, stating that the state had “unconstitutionally” neglected to allocate adequate funding to schools in economically disadvantaged communities.
In light of this ruling, Askey denounced the voucher program as a “distraction” and a “terrible idea” that would undermine the state's constitutional responsibility to provide education to its youth.
“Diverting one cent of taxpayer money to a tuition voucher scheme for private and religious schools is absolutely irresponsible, no matter what name you call it,” Askey stated.