Fiedler, Green join legislators, coalition of community and labor organizations to oppose private school vouchers

PHILADELPHIA, April 29 -- On Friday, state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Roni Green, both D-Phila., attended a news conference at City Hall to voice their support for investing in public education and rejecting voucher schemes in the 2024 state budget.

Organized labor, education advocates, and community organizations were in attendance to support fully funding Pennsylvania’s public schools. The event followed the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission’s recommendations to address Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional K-12 school funding system, recommendations that included $300 million for facilities upgrades last year.

Private school vouchers divert tax dollars that could be used to repair school buildings, instead affording them to the elite (more than half the time to families making over $200,000) to support institutions that openly discriminate against students, the legislators said.

“Every tax dollar given to voucher programs is another tax dollar diverted from our neighborhood public schools,” said Fiedler. “At a time when so many of our schools are struggling to stay open due to toxins and overdue repairs, our priority must be fully funding public schools and their buildings. As Democrats, we cannot allow vouchers to have a place in our state budget.”

"We can't afford entitlement programs. We must first fix what's broken," said Green.

The event was co-hosted by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, SEIU PA, 32BJ SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, UNITE HERE Local 634, POWER Interfaith, Make the Road PA, NAACP Pennsylvania, Philly DSA, the Pennsylvania Working Families Party, and the League of Women Voters.

Pennsylvania has some of the oldest schools in the country. The average school building is around 70 years old and was built when lead pipes and asbestos were standard building materials. Discoveries of asbestos and other toxins have led to school closures across the Commonwealth, including seven Philadelphia schools in 2023 alone. In the same year, 100 schools statewide closed due to excessive heat.

“For years public education has been underfunded and the system has failed many families. The cycle continues and it’s time for us to do right by the students and their families. We need to invest in public education, invest in the students and, by investing in students, we invest in changing the city for the better,” said Nicole Hunt, president of UNITEHERE Local 634.

“Funding for vouchers for private and religious schools does not get us $1 closer to a remedy for the unconstitutional public school funding system. In fact, every public dollar that funds tuition at a private school leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to fully fund public schools,” said Emily Lúa-Lúa, youth organizer for Make the Road PA.

“Our public schools aren't failing. They are being failed,” said Karalyn Derstine, parent of a special needs child in the public school system. “They are underfunded and thus not provided the resources necessary to support the needs of students."

“The NAACP has been in the fight for equitable education ever since Thurgood Marshall fought to end segregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case,” said Sherry Roland Washington, Pennsylvania statewide education chair for the NAACP. “70 years later and we are still fighting for equitable rights because our school systems are still separate—and not equal. Approving the PA School Vouchers/Scholarship fund ensures inequality will continue to grow in Pennsylvania public schools, and marginalized students will continue to be denied the promise of American public education because of their Zip code."

Also in attendance were Democratic state Sens. Vincent Hughes, Sharif Street, Nikil Saval, and Democratic state Reps. Ismail Smith-Wade-El, Gina Curry and Rick Krajewski. Several voiced their opposition to funding for private school vouchers in this year’s state budget after rejecting their inclusion last year.

“Pennsylvania lawmakers have been tasked with addressing the civil rights issue of our time – fixing Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional public education funding system. That has been, and will remain, my focus and my number one priority as we begin budget negotiations," said Hughes. "We must meet this moment and provide the funding necessary to ensure all Pennsylvania public school students can exercise their constitutional right to receive a high-quality education.”

"No matter what the billionaires and their lobbyists try to tell us, school vouchers are destructive for our public schools and abandon our public school children,” Krajewski said. “Our Commonwealth has failed to adequately fund education for working class, Black and brown young people for generations. We can’t let that continue in this year’s budget.”

In last year’s budget, the state approved $175 million to help fix school buildings across Pennsylvania, funding facilities repairs for the first time in eight years. In this year’s state budget address, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed investing $1.1 billion in basic education funding.

“We have a constitutional obligation to make this funding a reality. We cannot go backwards,” said Fiedler.