General Assembly Candidate Spotlight: School Choice

Welcome to the back-to-school installment of Broad + Liberty’s Candidate Spotlight Series! Each week, we reach out to candidates all across the Commonwealth up for election to public office — an equal number of Democrats and Republicans; incumbents and challengers. We ask one question per week about public policy pressing to you. Those who choose to respond will have their answers shared on our website every Wednesday through Sunday.

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania’s nominees for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Congress discussed school choice. Today, nominees for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly weigh in as we wrap up the week.

If you are a candidate for public office in Pennsylvania and would like to participate in our series, please reach out to

This week’s question: What are your thoughts on the Lifeline Scholarship Bill, which would provide students in the bottom 15% of the commonwealth’s lowest performing public schools with almost $7,000 in scholarship funds? Do you consider yourself a proponent of school choice?

Broad + Liberty thanks the following campaigns for their participation. Click a link below to jump to the response from your district’s candidate!

Rob Davies (R), Running for State Senate, District 12

I fully support the Lifeline Scholarship Bill. Far too many students are trapped in underperforming schools and these scholarships will provide an opportunity for them to get the education they deserve. It will also provide failing schools with more resources for the students that remain, giving them an opportunity to meet the competition. I support the expansion of these policies to ensure that all students have access to a quality education that aligns with the values of their parents and community.

Rob Davies’ opponent, Maria Collett, chose not to respond.

Jessica Florio (R), Running for State Senate, District 44

As a special education teacher for a cyber charter school, I absolutely support school choice, because I have witnessed firsthand how much being able to attend a different school positively impacts a child in need. The children I work with are considered some of the most vulnerable students, and they come from some of our area’s most underserved districts. Without the ability for their parents to choose a different school for them, these children would be stuck in districts that don’t have the resources to help them succeed. I would absolutely support the Lifeline Scholarship Bill because this would allow more students, who may not have the resources without receiving assistance, to go to a school that better suits them.

Pennsylvania is in serious need of educational reform, and it starts with allowing families the choice to send their student to whichever school is best for them.

Jessica Florio’s opponent, Katie Muth, chose not to respond.

Edward Mongelluzzo (R), Running for State House, District 161

We have all seen too many generations of children trapped in continually failing school districts with no hope of escape. That is wrong and it is a clear failure of government, as well as a betrayal of those children and their families. To address this failure — and give those children greater opportunities in life — we must offer alternatives, including scholarships. School choice, greater innovation and accountability in the traditional public education system, and support of alternative educational opportunities (career, technical, home-schooling, charter schools) are all important parts of solving the challenge of providing a quality education to all Pennsylvania’s children.

Edward Mongelluzzo’s opponent, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, chose not to respond.

Nichole Missino (R), Running for State House, District 165

I am for school choice. I believe a student should be able to take their funds and go to the school of their choice. Why shouldn’t students in underperforming schools have the chance to apply their funding elsewhere? It should be up to that family to decide, not politicians or state agencies. With all that is happening in PA schools right now, we have amazing teachers, but administrators are pushing woke tactics, and those tactics are being implemented by the PDE. I feel that every taxpayer should be offered not only quality education for their kids, but protection from the powers that be. I think we will have more than enough support on the topic of school choice because, as it stands, all of the funding will continue to drive up taxes.

Nichole Missino’s opponent, Jennifer O’Mara, chose not to respond.

Kristin Marcell (R), Running for State House, District 178

When the state allows generation after generation of children to be trapped in continually failing school districts, we hurt not only those children and their families, but our state as a whole. Because of this, I do believe we must offer alternatives — including scholarships — to these families and children to help ensure they are prepared with the skills they need to succeed after their education is complete. School choice, greater innovation and accountability in the traditional public education system, and support of alternative educational opportunities (career, technical, homeschooling, charter schools) are all important parts of solving the challenge of providing a quality education to all Pennsylvania children.

Ilya Breyman (D), Running for State House, District 178

The outgoing incumbent in the District 178, Wendi Thomas, a Republican, voted against the Lifeline Scholarship Bill as it appeared before the PA House of Representatives. While I’d imagine Representative Thomas and I would disagree on many issues, on this, I have a very difficult time finding fault with her conclusion that this bill was critically flawed, and I would have voted “no” on this proposal exactly as she did. 

The basis upon which the bottom 15% are defined is not how the bill suggests we measure the performance of the organizations where the funds are being used. That’s unfair, and is one of the most needless applications of additional government bureaucracy I’ve ever seen. We also need to move away from using two subject testing as a performance indicator. Instead of measuring average English and math proficiency “in the moment,” we should be looking at the overall progress students are making. As a product of Jesuit higher education, I’ve always embraced the value of “cura personalis” — caring for the entire person. Judging kids and their teachers by their scores in English and math is definitely not that.

This issue has been discussed in educational circles for a long time, and has stalled out in session, year after year, because nobody will stand up and have miniscule amounts of courage it would take to lead on this issue. I would, because the data says it’s the right thing for students, and the right choice for Pennsylvania. 

I would support our state investing in programs which public schools aren’t often equipped to offer but which are available to more affluent families and often contribute greatly to their success in college and careers. These programs include test prep mentoring, career counseling, individual and group tutoring, extracurricular activities not offered by schools, foreign language immersion programs, etc. 

No matter what our individual choices are when deciding what education is right for our own children, it would be a mistake to elevate the successes of our own child’s path to the point of hubris — to assume that because our child succeeded in this environment, everyone else’s will flourish the same. We should support innovation in teaching and learning. We need accountable charter schools and even private schools to come up with new ideas and approaches and to find ways to support students and families who feel their child may benefit from such innovative, but still not-completely fleshed out methods. But at the same time, let me be clear — this innovation should never be at the expense of our state’s public schools, and should certainly never mean that any child be given an education, at any Pennsylvania school that is so deficient, so as to not meet basic education quality standards.

Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @BroadAndLiberty

One thought on “General Assembly Candidate Spotlight: School Choice”

  1. Bravo to Ilya Breyman for being a courageous enough Democrat to answer the question. The response was reasoned and (whether or not you agree with him) shows respect for the voters’ right to know what the candidates stand for on this issue. I wish the other Democrats had this degree of openness.

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