HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — AP is reporting… During his campaign, Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has alluded to proposals that would be a transformative overhaul of the state’s more than $30 billion K-12 education system, with public dollars eligible to fund students’ private education. Mastriano’s sometimes conflicting statements have overall shown an effort to work with a likely GOP-controlled Legislature to propel far-reaching school choice programs by shifting state funds to students rather than schools.
This would allow for public funding to be used for students’ private education, homeschooling or religious schooling. Another key proposal has been the elimination of school property taxes — the largest contributor to districts’ budgets — which Mastriano has said would lessen the tax burden while saving the state money on education. Mastriano’s campaign did not answer a request for an interview. The plan’s scant details have been denounced by the state’s largest teachers’ union and more than 80 school board directors statewide. Any resultant legislation could also be open to legal challenges.
Mastriano’s opponent, Democratic nominee Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has shown a willingness to embrace school choice programs, but he’s also advocated for securing more public education funding. Mastriano has criticized the unions and “special interests” for “calling the shots” in public schools, suggesting school choice as the answer. “Are you getting your dollars’ worth?” he asked at a March debate, taking aim at cost versus outcomes. “It’s time to put the power back in your hands.” Under Pennsylvania’s current system, the state distributes billions to its 500 public school districts. This helps pay for salaries, building operations, transportation and more.
Under Mastriano’s plan, state funding dollars would instead go to students, and property tax dollars that typically go toward schools could be eliminated. Property taxes are the dominant source of income for schools, supplying nearly $15 billion in the 2020-21 school year, according to state data. Mastriano has offered no plan to replace the lost revenue. How much money goes to the kids under Mastriano’s plan has also waffled — he’s publicly said anywhere from $9,000 to $15,000 per student, down from the current state average of more than $19,000.