(The Center Square) – With Governor-elect Josh Shapiro set to assume office in January, Republicans see an opportunity to expand school choice in the commonwealth.

After some success in the House of Representatives, the GOP looks to do the same in the Senate.

Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, announced her intention to introduce legislation to create the Lifeline Scholarship program “to give students a pathway out of failing public schools,” she said in a press release.

“All children deserve a quality education regardless of their zip code,” Ward said.

The scholarship program would grant about $7,000 from already-existing education funds to students in low-performing schools to transfer to another school. The House passed a version of the bill in April, as The Center Square previously reported.

The scholarships could be used to pay for tuition, tutoring, textbooks, and other education expenses, and students could enroll in a public or non-profit private school.

If it passes in the GOP-controlled Senate, it could garner support from Gov.-elect Shapiro. On the campaign trail, Shapiro signaled his support for school choice, explicitly approving of lifeline scholarships, as The Center Square previously reported.

With the exit of Gov. Tom Wolf, who threatened to veto the legislation if it reached his desk, school choice could see a serious expansion in Pennsylvania.

“I think there’s a very strong chance of this going forward,” said Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “Shapiro has basically come out generically supporting this concept … (and) certainly entertained that he wants to see the Lifeline scholarship or something like that, like the (education scholarship accounts) we’ve seen in other states.”

The switch to Shapiro has opened up “room for negotiation,” he noted. It’s also a measure of how committed the governor-elect is to follow up on his campaign promises.

“Obviously, politicians say a lot of things on the campaign trail that they don’t deliver on in reality,” Benefield said. “To what level he’s committed to that, the test will be borne out probably early this session.”

Democrats had criticized the House bill for allowing scholarships to move money from public schools to private schools, and worried about a lack of accountability if audits weren’t performed more often.

Republicans argue the program would boost opportunity for students.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature and with Governor-elect Shapiro, to help all children achieve success by giving them the ability to be in the best academic environment possible,” Ward said.

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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