STATEMENT: PA Schools Work Campaign on the Passage of HB 611, General Appropriations Bill for 2023-24 Fiscal Year
Following the PA House passage of the 2023-24 fiscal year budget plan and the public statement from Governor Josh Shapiro that he will line-item veto funding for a voucher program for private schools, the PA Schools Work campaign made the following statement:
“The House passage of a state budget in reliance on Governor Shapiro’s commitment to line-item veto an appropriation for the controversial proposal to create the ‘PASS’ or ‘lifeline’ voucher program is the only pragmatic outcome to avoid the unacceptable use of public dollars for private schools. Pennsylvania legislators must now begin working towards addressing the recent court decision ruling that the state is not providing a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education for all PA students.’
“Democrats in the state House and its leadership team deserve credit for stopping an attempt to ram through this unaccountable giveaway to private schools that would undermine our public schools rather than strengthen them. We commend Democrats in the state Senate who stood strong for the 1.7 million Pennsylvania public school students, as well. Education advocates also recognize and commend House Democrats for passing an initial budget more in line with the kind of investment for public education necessary to begin to close our education funding gap.
“The final budget this year does not move Pennsylvania closer to compliance with the public school funding lawsuit ruling. While the budget includes spending increases for basic education, special education, and the Level Up initiative benefiting the state’s most underfunded districts, the funding levels for public schools in this budget are far below the House-passed appropriation, and barely keep pace with inflation. When coupled with the court decision, the $12 billion available in state surplus and reserves this year offered a rare opportunity for legislators and the governor to make a significant dent in that funding gap. That opportunity was squandered thanks to an intransigent Senate.
“While the new private school voucher program will not be implemented this coming fiscal year, that doesn’t change the fact that billionaires from outside Pennsylvania played an outsized role in budget negotiations, demanding that Senate Republicans hold the budget hostage in order to achieve their goals. Our lawmakers, from the governor on down, must recognize this effort for what it is: the first step in a Betsy DeVos-backed long-term plan to replace our public school system with taxpayer-funded vouchers. We will continue to fight alongside elected leaders and others who support quality public education against voucher programs that siphon taxpayer dollars away from our underfunded public schools.
“Going forward, the House, Senate, and governor must promptly reset the focus to a long-term plan for fixing the broken and unconstitutional public school funding system – particularly through the Basic Education Funding Commission – which is the only way to provide adequate opportunities for all students, regardless of their communities’ local wealth.”