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School choice veto may not end Pennsylvania budget impasse

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(The Center Square) – The governor’s vow to veto funding for a new school choice scholarship program and end the budget impasse may prove ineffective after all.

Thanks to the complexities of the legislative process, the state’s annual spending plan requires multiple enabling pieces of legislation – commonly referred to as “code bills” — to become effective.

And those bills – based on where they are in the process of becoming law – will ultimately land on the desk of the Republican-controlled Senate, where the program enjoys comfortable, and bipartisan, support.

Without agreement on the code bills, no budget deal can be finalized, legislative sources tell The Center Square.

The development comes five days after the upper chamber approved a $45.5 billion spending plan – with Gov. Josh Shapiro’s blessing – before leaving Harrisburg until September.

House Democratic leaders, however, said last week they won’t entertain any deal that includes money for the scholarships, despite the governor’s support.

In a public statement issued Wednesday, Shapiro said he will strike $100 million earmarked for the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success program in order to preserve the rest of the plan – which includes a $567 million boost to public school funding, the largest single-year increase in state history.

The scholarship program would offer grants worth up to $15,000 for low-income families living in the attendance zones for schools with records of low test scores and academic performance. The money could pay for private school tuition, tutoring and other services outside of the public system.

Supporters say the program offers a “lifeline” to more than 250,000 children bound to “failing” schools by zip code alone. Some of the schools report zero percent of students performing math or reading at grade level.

Critics argue that taxpayer funds should support public schools only, where accountability and transparency are state-regulated.

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