After promising to empower parents with school choice options, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) recently caved to teachers unions and announced his plans to line-item veto the state budget’s $100 million appropriation for scholarships for students trapped in low-performing schools. 

Pennsylvania’s budget included a new Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (or PASS) program for students residentially-assigned to a school ranked in the bottom 15% of performance. The program would give students relegated to “low-achieving” schools between $2,500 and $15,000 in scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis. It would have an income cap of less than 250% of federal poverty guidelines, which means a family of four, for instance, would have to make less than $75,000 annually to qualify. Students awarded scholarships would only be able to use the money for tuition or related expenses at a private school.

The proposal had bipartisan support. State Sen. Anthony Williams, (D., Philadelphia) advocated for the program, stating, “If you have a school in your district, a public school, that is not educating children, that is not safe, you shouldn’t be required to send your children there just because of your socioeconomic status. That is just not fair.”

Gov. Shapiro campaigned on a promise to expand choices for parents and educational opportunities for students. Shapiro recently expressed support for a similar proposal to offer Lifeline Scholarships, saying he was “for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their educations. That it gives them other opportunities… to be able to help them achieve success,”

By vetoing the proposed scholarship program for students trapped in failing schools, Shapiro is reneging on his campaign commitments to families and harming the state’s most vulnerable students. The governor is deliberately blocking funding for private school scholarships for students in the state’s lowest-achieving public schools, leaving tens of thousands of children across Pennsylvania in schools that are not capable of teaching them basic math and reading skills.  

This move is particularly abominable in light of the learning loss that children are experiencing across our country. The latest round of test scores released by the Nation’s Report Card reveals alarming and unprecedented math and reading scores for the nation’s 13-year-olds. (Read more HERE). Pennsylvania’s math and reading scores have plummeted in recent years. With only a quarter of Pennsylvania eighth graders proficient in math and one-third of fourth graders proficient in reading, clearly the governor and state legislature need to take drastic action.

Of course, this learning loss is felt most acutely in failing public schools, which were closed and barely educated children virtually during the pandemic. But Shapiro’s own children haven’t had the same experience, attending his alma mater, a private school where the tuition ranges from $31,700 to $38,700 a year.

Governor Shapiro is caving to the teachers unions, who both misrepresented the school choice proposal’s provisions and vocally opposed offering students a path out of failing schools. 

With 77% of Pennsylvania parents with school-age children supporting school choice policies, Governor Shapiro’s decision to line-item veto the scholarship program is both foolish and cruel. With states around the country dramatically expanding education freedom, Shapiro is a gubernatorial outlier who is holding back Pennsylvania’s students and ignoring the needs of his constituents.

Check my conversation on WMAL on this issue, as well as the National Education Association’s recommended summer reading list, below.