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School voucher battle headed back to campaign trail

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(The Center Square) — Though school choice supporters lost a budget fight over a $100 million voucher program, the next battle appears to be at the ballot box.

On Monday, the Commonwealth Partners PAC announced plans for a $10 million campaign “to elect school-choice lawmakers,” saying the group would “continue to fight for kids’ interest against special interests,” according to a press release.

The money follows a six-figure ad buy called the One Way Out Initiative during budget negotiations to pressure Gov. Josh Shapiro into supporting the Lifeline Scholarship program. The scholarship program would have created a $100 million fund for poor students in low-performing school districts to transfer to another school, but was vetoed by Shapiro – who notably supported the idea on the campaign trail – after opposition from Democratic legislators.

“Our supporters applaud the Pa. Senate for making school choice a priority in the state budget,” Commonwealth Partners President and CEO Matt Brouillette said. “Unfortunately, Pa. House Democrats and many Pa. Senate Democrats have chosen to side with government unions over the interests of students and families.”

Democrats criticize the proposal as an unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer money to private schools, citing a recent Commonwealth Court ruling that deemed the state’s current education funding formula inadequate. No appeals have been filed to challenge the decision.

The group said it will fund House and Senate candidates who are “committed to rescuing kids trapped in failing schools and giving them the opportunity to access an excellent education.”

“Gov. Shapiro caved to his union campaign donors once by vetoing educational opportunity and then rewarded them with billions of dollars in new taxpayer-funded contracts,” Brouillette said. “Our kids need an educational lifeline now. They can’t wait. If you stand with children, we will stand with you. But if you keep blocking the schoolhouse door, know that we plan to do everything we can to help children escape the unions’ worst schools in Pennsylvania.”

Another ad campaign by the group focused on Shapiro and Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, accusing them of hypocrisy and abandoning vulnerable children.

While the partisan divide has been stark on school choice, it hasn’t been unanimous. Rep. Amen Brown, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, have both publicly supported school choice programs.

School choice advocates have focused on the opportunities that changing schools give students, while opponents argue that public schools need more financial and political support to fix existing problems.

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