With fewer than ten hours before the close of the fiscal year, elected officials in Harrisburg are scrambling to get the needed votes to pass the 2023–24 Pennsylvania state budget that includes the new Lifeline Scholarship Program, a top priority for Harrisburg Republicans and school choice advocates.
The program would provide families within the catchment areas of failing public schools with scholarships to attend a school of their choice.
This version of the budget has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, including the vote of Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). Williams told Broad + Liberty earlier in the week, “I think that many of us in Pennsylvania are aware that there’s some areas, some districts in Pennsylvania — and I happen to be in one of those, Philadelphia County — that has for decades now had declining enrollments and declining academic results. And parents who don’t have the means to move, knowing what it means to pay for tuition, are trapped.”
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The budget is now in the hands of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where Democrats enjoy a razor-thin, single seat majority. Advocates of the scholarship program say House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) appears to be the key to curing the schism in the between those Democrats sympathetic to Pennsylvania teachers’ unions’ vociferous opposition to the program and members of the Black Caucus whose constituents are likely to benefit directly from the program.
An ad released today by Commonwealth Action claims Bradford is blocking the passage of the budget, and subsequently denying low-income and underachieving students in nearby Philadelphia the opportunity to leave failing schools. The ad concludes by asking Representative Bradford, “Why are you turning your back on Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable kids?”
Broad + Liberty attempted to reach Bradford by phone and email for a comment, but neither request was immediately returned.
Governor Josh Shapiro has pledged his support of the Lifeline Scholarship Program despite pushback from some in his party and organized labor. Should the legislature pass a budget with most of the Governor’s funding priorities accompanied by a key Senate Republican legislative priority, it may be a harbinger of an emerging, if fledgling, bipartisan consensus in Harrisburg.
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