Pennsylvania approves its ‘biggest-ever’ expansion of school choice tax credits

Pennsylvania’s Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an expansion of the school scholarship tax credit program in the state, which one conservative group headlined as “historic.”

The bill also…

Pennsylvania’s Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an expansion of the school scholarship tax credit program in the state, which one conservative group headlined as “historic.”

The bill also included increased funding for teachers.

“[The expansion of the school scholarship tax credit program] marks a critical step toward expanding opportunities for children and enhancing educational freedom in Pennsylvania,” said Stephen Bloom, vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation of the program’s expansion. “We applaud both chambers for working together to pass the biggest-ever expansion of Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships. It will mean thousands more kids can access the education that fits their academic needs.” 

The Commonwealth Foundation is a free-market think tank operating in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

The passage of the expansion comes even after Shapiro reneged in July on his campaign commitment to support school choice when he threatened to veto a previously passed expansion of the program. 

“What I find most troubling is the fact that Governor Shapiro seems to have been dishonest throughout this whole process,” said Republican state Rep. Aaron Bernstine at the time of the veto threat. “The truth is these are horrendous school districts, and we need to provide an option for students and their parents to make decisions that are best for them.” 

Republicans then vowed not to cooperate with the governor in the passage of other budget items. That proved to be problematic for the Democrat governor because Republicans control the state Senate. 

Senate GOP leaders Kim Ward and Joe Pittman both warned during the summer impasse that the budget drama was far from over because of unique provisions in the state’s constitution that require the Senate leaders to sign off on budgets even after they have passed the Legislature. 

“The General Appropriation bill is not the final step in the budget process. The Senate will continue to await legislative action by the House on the remaining budgetary components, to see what House Democrats, with the slimmest majority, are able to advance,” said the GOP leadership at the time. 

Shapiro seemed to acknowledge as much in his remarks on signing the bill yesterday.  

“We wrapped up a lot of unfinished business here together tonight, but on top of that we’re going beyond what the budget I signed this past summer calls for,” Shapiro said, according to Penn Live.  

Nate Benefield, senior vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation told The Lion that there was increased pressure on Democrats to stop obstructing a program that has a lot of public support.  

“This is a very popular program,” Benefield said. “A lot of students are benefiting from it currently. A lot of the schools and scholarship organizations have not been commending to lawmakers. I think [Democrats] even saw that their votes to obstruct this was not very popular.” 

Benefield said that even Democrats who didn’t support the tax credit program brag about it in their districts as something that benefits kids. 

That was made clear by the latest vote that brought passage of the expansion of the tax credits– especially the vote in the Democrat-controlled House.  

On Wednesday, the State Senate approved the expansion of the tax credit program in a 43-7 vote, and the House 175-28.  

It was quickly signed by the governor.  

Benefield said that there is still more unfinished business on school choice in the state, including looking at universal school choice savings accounts. 

In the short term, however, school reformers might try to pass what are known as Lifeline Scholarship, said Benefield.  

The Lifeline program would expand school choice for students stuck in the bottom 15% of the state’s schools.  

“It’s some unfinished business along with some other issues. So that’s not going away. It’s not done, but it is going to be something that may be pushed in to 2024,” Benefield told The Lion.