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Shapiro exploring ways to scrap school vouchers in end-run on Senate Republicans

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro.
Jessica Griffin
Philadelphia Inquirer
Gov. Josh Shapiro is negotiating a possible budget deal that circumvents the state Senate.

Gov. Josh Shapiro is exploring ways to scrap his push for private school vouchers in Pennsylvania’s state budget without having to again seek approval for the spending plan from Senate Republicans, who approved a version with vouchers last week.

Two people with direct knowledge of the budget talks confirmed to Spotlight PA on Wednesday that the governor has advocated for House Democrats to pass the Senate version contingent on his promise that he would then line-item veto the vouchers from the $45.5 billion spending plan. The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations.

Separately, Shapiro’s general counsel has sent House Democrats’ counsel a letter asserting that they could stymie the voucher program simply by refusing to pass a necessary bill implementing the program. The letter, first reported by PennLive and which Spotlight PA has also viewed, argued that if House Democrats decided not to pass implementation language, the $100 million in the budget “would sit idle in a Treasury account.”

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The voucher program would give publicly-funded private school scholarships to students in low-achieving public schools, and it was the reason why House Democrats last week refused to pass a budget deal that Shapiro negotiated with Senate Republicans.

That deal, which passed the state Senate 29-21 on Friday, included key Democratic priorities like increased education funding, universal free school lunch, and the commonwealth’s first-ever funding for public legal defense. However, Democrats viewed the inclusion of vouchers as a poison pill.

When they passed it last week, Senate GOP leaders made it clear that their support for it was contingent on vouchers being included in the plan, with Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) telling reporters that any plan that didn’t include vouchers would have to have “a different number.”

This new maneuver from Shapiro, assuming support from House Democrats, would not require the proposed plan to go back to the Senate, thus circumventing Republicans there. Republican leaders did not immediately return a request for comment.

It remains unclear whether Shapiro’s offer to veto the program would secure the passage of a state budget through the Democratic-controlled state House. House Democratic leaders did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday, but the approach would still require them to approve a budget with vouchers and rely on the governor to then eliminate that portion — a dynamic that House Democratic members are acutely aware of.

“There’s not a lot of trust amongst [Democratic] members and the administration,” one House Democrat, who requested anonymity to discuss budget negotiations, told Spotlight PA.

The governor has the power to selectively veto individual appropriations while leaving the rest of the budget intact. That power was last used in 2021, when former Gov. Tom Wolf line-item vetoed additional funding for the state’s auditor general that legislative Republicans said was meant to fund election audits.

Members of the House and Senate have the power to override a governor’s veto, but only if they can muster support from two thirds of their chamber. It’s unlikely that Senate Republicans — who passed their budget plan last week with a less than two-thirds majority, and with support from only one Democrat — can change the budget’s path.

The deal would raise spending by about 5% over last year, with most of that new money going toward education — a priority for Democrats. But with the state sitting on about $12 billion in cash reserves, Democrats had hopes for an even bigger increase in light of a court ruling earlier this year that found the state was unconstitutionally underfunding poorer school districts.

The deal also did not include action on a number of other Democratic priorities, from a minimum wage increase to an LGBTQ non-discrimination measure.

90.5 WESA partners with Spotlight PA, a collaborative, reader-funded newsroom producing accountability journalism for all of Pennsylvania. More at