Gov. Josh Shapiro to Veto School Voucher Program in State Budget

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaking at a press conference in the Pennsylvania State Capitol on July 6, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

July 6, 2023

Education advocates and teachers’ unions opposed the controversial voucher proposal, arguing it would divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced on Thursday that he is going to line-item veto a school voucher provision after House Democrats passed the 2023-2024 state budget on Wednesday.

At a press conference, Shapiro expressed his personal support for the “Pennsylvania Award for Student Success Scholarship program,” which would have used taxpayer dollars to fund scholarships for students in the state’s lowest achieving schools to help them attend private or religious schools. 

Shapiro noted, however, that “House Democrats made clear it would not pass their chamber, particularly with the Senate’s unwillingness to advance more of the House’s priorities.”

Among the legislation that the Senate has failed to move since the beginning of session are the Fairness Act, which would grant LGBTQ people protections from discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, a bill to raise the minimum wage, and gun safety measures—all of which have Shapiro’s backing.  

The governor placed blame for the voucher program’s demise at the feet of Senate Republicans, who were unable to close a budget deal with House Democrats. 

“Rather than closing a deal that was within reach with House Democrats, instead they chose to send the House a budget that was not agreed upon by all three parties, which contained the $100 million for a program that the House was unwilling to advance at this time,” Shapiro said.  

Senate Republicans passed their version of the budget last Friday and went on recess until the middle of September. But in order for the budget to advance to the Governor’s desk—where he could then officially veto the voucher provision—the Senate has to schedule a one-day procedural session for the Lt. Governor to sign the bill.

Shapiro called on the Senate to return to Harrisburg to sign off on the budget bill, but it’s unclear if Senate Republicans will actually schedule that session, as is required by state law as part of the budget process. If they don’t, they could hold up the budget bill until September.

The voucher program received massive pushback from the commonwealth’s largest teachers’ unions and public school advocates, who argued it would divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to private and religious schools.

There are 382 schools across Pennsylvania, and 152 in Philadelphia, that are classified as “low achieving schools,” which are defined as public schools ranked in the lowest 15% of schools based on standardized testing. 

After weeks of fighting against the voucher effort, union leaders and advocates celebrated Shapiro’s announcement on Thursday.

“Last week, the education community made it clear that we oppose the tuition voucher scheme passed by the state Senate. Today, Gov. Shapiro announced that he will use his line-item veto power to eliminate the $100 million tuition voucher appropriation. That removes our concerns with the budget bill,” Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said in a press release on Thursday.

Proponents of the voucher program include right-wing organizations such as the Commonwealth Foundation and Pennsylvania’s richest billionaire and right-wing mega donor, Jeffrey Yass.

Instead of diverting taxpayer dollars to vouchers, the upcoming budget will instead increase funding for public education by more than $730 million. 

 “We’re grateful that lawmakers have approved a state budget that makes much-needed investments in our public schools,” Askey said.

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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