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Gridlock stalls school choice proposal as budget prepares for overtime

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(The Center Square) – A Republican-backed school choice program stalled Thursday after House Democrats adjourned without voting on it.

Later, in a statement provided to The Center Square, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Norristown, said he won’t entertain the proposal as part of budget negotiations.

“This is a distraction,” he said. “With hours left to pass a state budget, a hard reset is needed.”

The proposal – recently renamed the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success, or PASS – offers grants to certain low-income students to cover tuition, tutoring and educational programs outside of the public system.

While supporters see it as a way to “free” children from low-performing schools – defined as ranking among the bottom 15% based on reading and math test scores – critics argue the $100 million in taxpayer money it would cost should be spent on public school students instead.

“We have moral and constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund our public education system, as the Pennsylvania Commonwealth clearly ruled,” Bradford said. “We must move beyond this distraction and get back to work.”

Sixty-five advocates – in a letter sent to the governor Thursday – say that 250,000 students attend low-performing schools across 39 counties. Among the elementary schools in this group, less than 8% of students scored proficient in math, while less than one-quarter are proficient in English. Not one student across six low-performing high schools read at grade level. Another 33 schools report zero students performing math at grade level.

Ana Cintron, a Philadelphia mother who lives in the attendance zone for one of the schools, told The Center Square she’s disappointed by the gridlock.

“Please don’t fail the kids over a funding fight,” she said. “Every child deserves a chance at a bright and safe future.”

At a news conference scheduled for Friday afternoon, critics of the proposal will warn of the “dangers” of what they refer to as “school vouchers.” A parent from the Reading School District is scheduled to speak.

Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters for PA, said on social media it’s “hard to imagine a group that is more focused on destroying public education than this crew” – in reference to the letter sent to Shapiro backing what they once called “Lifeline Scholarships,” before the Senate renamed it.

She ended her comments by pleading with the governor to “abandon these misguided vouchers and fund our PUBLIC schools.”

Shapiro caused a frenzy among his Democratic allies after telling Fox News earlier this week he supports the concept of the proposal, so long as it doesn’t impact public education spending.

Personal income tax revenue will pay for the program, according to the bill’s language.

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