(The Center Square) – A state lawmaker crossed the aisle live on talk radio to support a scholarship program for students in low-performing schools to attend private institutions instead.
The vouchers, said Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Amen Brown, “give our parents another option and leave it in their hands,” rather than force their kids into public schools that lack opportunity.
“So, my thoughts are straightforward,” he said on the Dom Giordano radio show. “We need [education] options. I’m a supporter. I’m on record for voting for options when no one else did.”
Brown’s comments reference his affirmative vote for a similar program that passed in the state House last session. Legislative sources told The Center Square he faced retribution from party leadership for doing so and had to publicly retract his support or he’d lose staff and committee assignments.
The Center Square contacted House Democratic leadership for comment but has not yet received a response. Party leaders in both chambers say vouchers divert taxpayer money into private schools, pointing to a recent state court ruling that deemed Pennsylvania’s public education funding formula unconstitutional.
As such, they say, more support for public schools is not only necessary but required by law.
Brown’s defection follows a month of gridlock in Harrisburg. A $45.5 billion budget – which includes $100 million for the scholarship program and $567.4 million extra funding for public schools – remains unsigned on the Senate desk.
This, after Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said he’d line-item veto the voucher program he helped draft, to secure a deal with legislative Democrats. Republican leaders balked at the double cross, with no plans to return to session until mid-September.
Recently, Senate President Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, said the tensions had cooled somewhat and lawmakers could return later this month to sign the spending plan.
That’s only one part of the process. Legislators must also finalize code bills, which direct the state on how to spend the money in the budget. It’s an opportunity for both sides to find some sort of compromise, Brown said, lest Democrats forgo all “the goodies” the current plan includes for them and Shapiro.
“It’s going to be a shoestring budget, and that’s all the Senate is potentially going to send over, and then no one wins,” he said.