Known as the Pennsylvania Award For Student Success scholarship program [PASS], or the lifeline scholarship program, the bill aimed to award scholarships between $2,500 and $15,000 based on grades or special needs requirements on a first-come, first-served basis. Students living in households with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level, or $75,000 for a family of four, would be eligible under the program.
Gov. Josh Shapiro, who has been a supporter of what’s called school choice and state-funded voucher programs, ultimately pledged to line-item veto the proposal to end a budget stalemate. The House passed a $45.5 billion budget shortly after his pledge to veto the program. Republican leaders voiced their dissatisfaction with the decision, saying that Shapiro had betrayed a good-faith agreement on vouchers, and refused to reconvene the Senate for an obligatory signing of the budget.
Even though the voucher proposal appears to be dead for now, both advocates and critics of school vouchers believe this won’t be the last time it comes up. Shapiro has indicated that similar proposals may be introduced in the future.
PublicSource spoke with experts to break down the complicated narrative around school voucher programs, what makes them so controversial and the potential impacts on Allegheny County school systems if a new voucher program is implemented.
Advocates: Without vouchers, students are ‘trapped’
State Rep. Rob Mercuri, R-Pine, said the voucher program would not take any money from traditional public schools, but rather $100 million would be added to the budget to award the scholarships.
“This really is a game changer because many students are on charter school waiting lists in our failing school districts or are just trapped in those failing school districts and can’t afford to move out,” he said.
Roughly 250,000 students would have been eligible for the school voucher scholarships, according to an estimate by think tank Commonwealth Foundation; however, it’s unclear how many of those students would benefit from it.
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