Shapiro Caves to Labor Unions on School Choice

Member Group : Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus

By State Representative Joe D’Orsie
Campaign promises are a dime a dozen, but there was reason to be optimistic about Democrat Governor Josh Shapiro’s promise to provide an escape hatch for kids trapped in Pennsylvania’s worst government-run schools. The “Lifeline Scholarship” is a school choice program that creates a pathway for kids – often urban, minority students – to escape their low-performing public school and enroll in a better alternative. This $100M allocation, or 0.2% of Pennsylvania’s overall budget, seemed like a sensible, bipartisan effort that the ever-ambitious Shapiro could add to his resume. But as the final budget vote closed in, Governor Shapiro balked, capitulating to the leftist radicals of his own party in the PA House. In a suspenseful twist, Shapiro agreed to line-item veto his own lifeline promise in exchange for passing the balance of his budget.

To fully grasp the depravity of this flip-flop, let’s recount the promise, which turned out to be empty and will prove to be detrimental to kids who are trapped in failing government schools.

This promise to fund lifeline scholarships was repeated in Shapiro’s inaugural budget address. I know because I was there as a member of the PA General Assembly and stood in applause for the promise while my Democrat counterparts remained seated.

During on an appearance on Fox News where he reaffirmed his pledge to save kids. “Every child of God deserves a quality education,” he said.


This brings us to recent budget negotiations in Pennsylvania. Sidestepping the dysfunctional Democrat leadership of the PA House, Shapiro negotiated with Senate Republicans, ironing out a fiscally moderate budget that included a line item for Lifelines. This was a bipartisan effort, with Democrat Anthony Williams passionately defending lifelines on the Senate floor.

This was all very encouraging to me and the Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, but even more so when Shapiro cancelled an appearance with the Pennsylvania Student Education Association (PSEA) – the state’s teachers’ union – just days before the House considered the Senate’s budget proposal. The PSEA, which dumped $775,000 into Shapiro’s campaign, has long been the loudest opponent to school choice legislation. So, we hoped the Governor would have the courage to stand up to the most powerful lobby in our state and fulfill his promise to kids. PAFC went to work, leading Republican messaging efforts in the PA House and going to battle on social media against the Left to provide Shapiro the cover to do right thing. What we got were empty words, broken promises, and a clever statement deflecting responsibility for his betrayal. The Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus was proud to have been supportive of the lifeline scholarship program from the start and was disheartened to see the governor capitulate to special interests at the sake of the commonwealth’s students.

It can’t be explained away that this makes Shapiro look weak. It also can’t ever be forgotten that special interest groups carried the day on this budget impasse, even when kids trapped in failing schools were at stake. But the golden opportunity here that Shapiro was not able to seize on was the tremendous victory he could have achieved with lifelines. Nearly 80% of Pennsylvanians support school choice in some format; if there ever was an easy bipartisan win that the aspiring Shapiro could have claimed as his own it was this. But he broke a promise and in so doing broke with a vast majority of PA voters.

But rather than having the courage to elevate over his union donors, and the fortitude to get his own party on board, Shapiro balked, and now kids in underperforming schools will pay the price.

Joe D’Orsie represents Pennsylvania’s 47th Legislative District and is part of the state Freedom Caucus.