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Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Candidate Makes Unorthodox Nod To School Choice In Final Weeks Of Campaign

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Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro is nodding to certain school choice initiatives — an unusual play for a swing-state progressive with a lengthy history of supporting government education.

In the aftermath of school lockdowns that ravaged learning outcomes across the United States, education has become a top issue for citizens casting a ballot in the midterm elections. Roughly 74% of registered voters support school choice, according to a poll from RealClear Opinion Research, while search engine data analyzed by the Washington Examiner appears to indicate that education is a particularly salient issue for voters in Pennsylvania.

The national platform for the Democratic Party expressly opposes “private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system.” Shapiro, the attorney general of the Keystone State, nevertheless supports “adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania,” according to his campaign website in language that was added only last month, as revealed by online archives.

The commonwealth’s lifeline scholarship legislation, which passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and advanced beyond the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee earlier this year, would reallocate funds from the bottom 15% of districts to help families pay for tuition at alternative schools. Shapiro also promises to appoint at least two parents to the State Board of Education, according to his campaign website.

“Shapiro’s shift towards supporting school choice is a wise political move,” American Federation for Children National Director of Research Corey DeAngelis told The Daily Wire, noting that the vast majority of Pennsylvanian parents approve of policies such as education savings accounts. “It looks like Shapiro is reading the tea leaves. He saw what happened to Terry McAuliffe in Virginia — Republican Glenn Youngkin won on education in a state that went 10 points to Biden just the year before — and Shapiro doesn’t want to face the same fate.”

On the other hand, Shapiro is endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers union representing more than 187,000 employees, and filed an amicus brief earlier this year against plaintiffs challenging the commonwealth’s system of funding government schools. The Daily Wire reached out to the Shapiro campaign to ask if the candidate supports any other school choice legislation, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

The amalgam of support for government education and nods toward school choice is unorthodox for a Democratic candidate, especially one who sends his four children to a Jewish day school that costs more than $30,000 per year. DeAngelis argued that the atypical policy platform indicates a “seismic shift” in American politics.

“In a way it doesn’t really matter whether this was a true change of heart or a political move — that a high-profile Democrat running for governor, who is up in the polls, felt compelled to switch his stance less than two months before the election is good news for families,” he explained. “School choice is emerging as a political winner because parents are pushing back, which could be the path towards widespread bipartisan support for education freedom.”

Polls have indeed shown Shapiro with a sizable lead over Republican rival and state lawmaker Doug Mastriano, who promises to “fight like hell” for school choice in a manner that gives government schools “the competition that will make them great,” according to his website.

Some operatives note that Mastriano has assembled a more robust grassroots base than his opponent. However, DeAngelis suspects that the attorney general’s openness toward school choice is more than an eleventh-hour ploy to hedge against an election upset because of his decision to explicitly identify the lifeline scholarship proposal — a bill that passed the Pennsylvania House with only one affirmative Democratic vote.

“It’s a lot harder to back out of support for a specific piece of legislation than a broad concept that politicians can redefine and pivot away from later on,” DeAngelis said.

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