Governor’s flip shows teachers unions own the Democratic Party

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Red and blue America have been headed in opposite directions on school choice, with Republicans passing broad education savings account expansions in states like Arizona, Iowa, Florida, and Indiana while Democrats have shut down small school choice programs for disadvantaged students in Illinois and Nevada.

The one place where school choice looked to have bipartisan support was Pennsylvania, whose Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, campaigned on a choice measure for kids stuck in the worst performing 15 percent of schools in the state. Shapiro even went on national Fox News to tout school choice, and negotiated a budget agreement with the Republicans who control his state Senate to enact it into law.

But that’s where the feel-good bipartisan story ended, because at the last minute Shapiro snapped into party-line under pressure from the teachers union, broke his campaign promise, and said he would veto the very program he campaigned on.

That creates an impasse in the state legislature, and unless the governor recommits to choice, it means thousands of kids will be denied scholarships that could have made all the difference for their life prospects.

Shapiro claims that he simply cannot convince even one House Democrat, which is all he would need to honor his agreement. But even last session a more robust, standalone version of the proposal had Democratic support.

Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Bradford led the opposition and twisted the arms of House Democrats.

The law firm where Bradford is “of counsel,” Rudolph Clarke, is on retainer with at least nine Pennsylvania school districts. The man literally is being paid (with taxpayers dollars) by public school systems to keep poor kids locked into their failing schools.

Rep. Amen Brown voted for it – and then Bradford threatened to strip him of his staff and committee assignments and made him release a video renouncing his vote that looked like a hostage tape.

Another Philadelphia Democrat cosponsored the bill but wasn’t present for the floor vote and Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, using new rules allow proxy voting, cast his vote against it anyway.

A third Democrat had originally voted yes on the House floor before flipping his vote on the final tally, while being pressured by Democratic leadership.

On the current proposal, which is a new, capped pot of funding that doesn’t redirect funds from public schools when children leave, Donna Bullock, chair of the legislative Black Caucus, noted publicly that she is undecided. Bullock later noted that “members of the Black Caucus are divided.” That didn’t last.

Bradford’s strong-arm tactics and blatant conflict of interest would provide plenty of fodder if the governor really wanted to fight for kids. It is simply impossible to believe that a popular Democratic governor cannot convince a single state House member of his own party to support a program he campaigned on.

If Shapiro fails to deliver, therefore, we can only conclude that he is only hiding behind House Democrats because he shamefully decided to sacrifice children to the political power of teachers unions. And the tragic national implication might be that it is simply impossible to provide scholarships to vulnerable kids anywhere Democrats have even partial political control.

Copyright 2023 Phil Kerpen, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Phil Kerpen is the president of American Commitment and the author of “Democracy Denied.” Kerpen can be reached at [email protected].