The decade's most triggering comedy
The voucher program was supported by the Republican-controlled state Senate, but stalled in the Democratic state House. While the budget contained many Democratic priorities, such as increased spending for education and state funding for legal defense (Pennsylvania is currently the only state that does not fund public defenders – that responsibility rests with its counties), the voucher program faced fierce opposition from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. That opposition was enough to stall the state budget past its June 30 deadline, leading Shapiro to back down.
“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.
School choice was a major issue in the Keystone state’s gubernatorial race in 2022 – second only to crime. According to the state’s own assessments, in 2021, 78% of 8th-graders were not proficient in math and 47% were not proficient in language arts.
In early September, fairly late in the campaign, Shapiro broke with many Democrats by quietly voicing his support for “adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.” His Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, proposed his own voucher program that would have also cut education spending significantly. Mastriano’s proposal was denounced by the PSEA as “devastating.”
Shapiro’s preferred program, the Lifeline Scholarship, would’ve given students from low performing public schools $7,000 in education vouchers to spend at a school of their family’s choice, including private schools. The proposal was supported by Republicans and some Democrats from districts with poor public schools, but was categorically rejected by most 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 as the budget deadline neared in late June. Citing a ruling from a Pennsylvania court that said the state had “unconstitutionally” failed to fund schools in poor communities, Askey called the voucher program a “distraction” and a “terrible idea” that would interfere with the state’s constitutional mandate to educate 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 said.
In 2022, the PSEA donated over $1 million to Democratic candidates for the state legislature, as well as $775,000 to Shapiro and over $300,000 to Republican candidates.