In union-stronghold Pennsylvania, Democratic nominee supports school choice

Support for more education funding isn’t a rarity among Democrats nationally, but Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro is standing out – for his support of school choice.

On the campaign trail, Shapiro has emphasized his support for a “strong education system” and plans to make “critical investments” in teachers, buildings, and technology. Less emphasized until recent news stories has been his support for letting parents choose the schools their children attend.

“Josh believes parents deserve to be empowered to ensure their kids receive a good education and that every child has access to quality learning,” according to Shapiro’s campaign website. “That requires boosting funding for education and innovating to ensure children in our most challenged schools receive the education and care they deserve.”

While standard for Democratic candidates, what follows is less so.

“Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania,” his website reads.

That support aligns Shapiro with state Republicans, who advanced a school choice bill in the House in June and awaits Senate action.

The Center for Education Reform, a pro-school choice organization, called Shapiro’s support “an unprecedented move for a Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania.”

“Whether if elected he would maintain that resolve remains to be seen,” Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, said in a press release, “but we are incredibly optimistic when politicians recognize the importance of giving parents the right to direct the education of their children.”

Shapiro’s support of school choice is a rare issue where he agrees with Republican gubernatorial nominee and state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Democratic support for school choice polls well among Democratic voters, but it’s less common among state-level politicians. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis may be the only prominent Democratic supporter of school choice, but given Pennsylvania’s higher unionization rate, Shapiro’s stance may be more difficult.

It could also give Shapiro an edge among independent or Republican voters. A Monmouth University poll noted that Mastriano’s “core partisan support is weaker than Shapiro’s right now.” A more moderate platform could attract disaffected Republican voters to Shapiro.

School choice is one way Shapiro appears to signal that moderation.

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