Josh Shapiro voices support Saturday for ‘vital scholarships’ championed by school choice supporters

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He does not make his stump speeches, which he reserves for wholehearted support for traditional public schools.

But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro confirmed on Saturday that he is ready, at least conceptually, to award tax-funded scholarships directly to students that parents and guardians of students in Lower-performing public schools in the state could use for a variety of options ranging from tutoring to paying tuition at another school.

A version of the program, called “vital scholarships,” passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in April by a vote of 104 to 98, which supporters said marked the first time a bill on direct-to-student scholarships was adopted by the State House. The bill was also approved by the state Senate Education Committee in June, although due to an amendment it would still require final passing votes in both houses before reaching the Governor Tom Wolf’s office for enactment or a veto.

The bill under consideration, sponsored by Republican House members Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro and Martina White, R-Philadelphia, would apply to students in the bottom 15% of elementary and secondary schools, as measured by their overall standardized test scores. That would cover, according to the bill’s fiscal analyses, about 191,000 students in 382 schools in 76 of the state’s 500 school districts.

According to data from the state Department of Education, 80 percent of students in these schools are students of color and low-income children.

The Owlett-White bill would channel approximately $6,700 in state assistance from affected school districts to students in eligible schools for use on approved educational expenses such as tuition at another public school or privacy, tutoring, computers or other aids. The rest of the per-student aid, estimated at about $12,500, would stay with the school district.

Shapiro’s support for the vital fellowship concept is described on the education page of his campaign website, which says in part: Josh supports adding choice for parents and educational opportunities for students and funding vital scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.

Speaking to Democratic supporters on Saturday, Shapiro focused on other things. He said he wants to continue Gov. Tom Wolf’s work on increasing public funding for public schools and reducing the number of standardized tests to give districts and teachers more time for teaching and teaching. untested subjects such as history, civics, art and music. .

He said he also wanted to ensure that every student had access to technical and vocational courses, and he wanted to require that every school building have at least one dedicated mental health counselor on staff.

The issue of scholarships only came up during a series of questions with reporters after the speech.

“I am for the full funding of public education. I’m all for making sure we give parents the opportunity to put their children in the best possible position so they can succeed. And I’m all for making sure we add scholarships like life-saving scholarships to make sure it’s on top of their studies. May it give them more opportunities…so that we can help them succeed,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro, who enrolled his own children in a private, faith-based school he also attended a generation ago, has not said he will sign the current bill, which he says has some flaws. But he made it clear that he was open to the concept.

Shapiro, who is backed by the state’s major public school teachers’ unions — staunch opponents of policies that transfer taxpayers’ money from the systems to students — said he hasn’t heard any direct backlash. of its allies on this issue.

PennLive reached out to a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association for comment, but reserved comment until it could learn more about Shapiro’s position.

Shapiro’s Republican opponent, State Senator Doug Mastriano, is a strong supporter of full school choice and has proposed a school funding reform proposal that would send a portion of state aid paid for each Pennsylvania student to families. Mastriano’s proposal was strongly criticized by the PSEA and a group of school board members from across the state.

The Vital Scholarship Plan is much more targeted at the state’s worst performing schools. Versions of the proposal have been proposed in the state legislature since Governor Tom Ridge’s administration, including some backed by Democratic lawmakers who have argued that children attending poor schools now have only a only childhood and that they cannot wait for the hoped-for reversals.

Shapiro characterized his support for scholarships as an “both/and” proposition when it comes to public schools.

“I have always supported, invested in and spoken about the need to fully fund public education, to invest to ensure that every child has that opportunity and to ensure that we meet our constitutional obligation” for levels of equitable funding across the state, he said.

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