Unions release letter to Gov. Shapiro and lawmakers, opposing “lifeline scholarship” tuition voucher plan

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Unions release letter to Gov. Shapiro and lawmakers, opposing “lifeline scholarship” tuition voucher plan

For further information contact:
Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
David Broderic (717) 255-7169

HARRISBURG (June 22, 2023) – Leaders of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers – Pennsylvania, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union State Council (SEIU), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), Local 1776, and the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council today sent a joint letter to Gov. Josh Shapiro and all state senators and state representatives, making it clear that they oppose “lifeline scholarship” programs or any other types of tuition voucher schemes for private and religious schools that divert taxpayer funds from public schools.

Senate Republican leaders have announced that spending state funds on a “lifeline scholarship” tuition voucher program is one of their top priorities in state budget negotiations. The “lifeline scholarship” proposal is included in Senate Bill 795, which the Senate may consider during the week of June 26.

In the letter to Shapiro and lawmakers, the unions made it clear that the tuition voucher plan is completely irresponsible and a distraction from what should be lawmakers’ primary responsibility: properly funding Pennsylvania’s public schools in the wake of a Commonwealth Court decision ruling that Pennsylvania’s public school funding system is unconstitutional and denies many students the resources they need to receive an adequate public education.

“Particularly in the wake of a Commonwealth Court decision that found that our state’s public education funding system is unconstitutional, it is unacceptable to entertain any discussion about tuition voucher schemes that divert funding from our public school students,” the letter said. “Making the investments Pennsylvania’s students need to ensure that our public school funding system meets our constitution’s requirements should be policymakers’ only focus for the FY 2023-24 state budget.”

The letter also pointed out that:

  • Tuition voucher programs are not a remedy included in the Commonwealth Court’s decision ruling that Pennsylvania’s school funding system is unconstitutional.
  • The “lifeline scholarship” program in Senate Bill 795 is duplicative of the EITC and OSTC tax credit programs that allow businesses to access tax credits when they make scholarship contributions to private and religious schools.
  • The “lifeline scholarship” program in Senate Bill 795 includes no income limitations, which would allow wealthy Pennsylvanians to access tuition vouchers.
  • Because private and religious schools are not required to comply with federal IDEA requirements for students with special needs, the state cannot ensure that students who receive tuition vouchers have access to services that comply with IDEA or state regulations even though their education would be supported with state resources.
  • The “lifeline scholarship” program in Senate Bill 795 does not include any academic accountability measures for private or religious schools even though it proposes to use academic accountability metrics to identify low-performing public schools to determine students’ eligibility for tuition vouchers.

“It is clearly irresponsible to appropriate state funds for tuition vouchers that benefit private and religious schools when the commonwealth hasn’t met its most basic duty to students who attend our public schools – the same public schools that the Commonwealth Court has determined are unconstitutionally underfunded,” the joint letter emphasized.

“This tuition voucher exercise, timed conveniently in the final days of FY 2023-24 budget deliberations, is keeping policymakers from addressing actual problems like our unconstitutional public school funding system and the school staff shortage crisis. It is irresponsible to vote for any tuition voucher program or include a tuition voucher program in any state budget agreement.”

Read the full letter at www.psea.org/voucherletter.