If Policies That Kill Fracking Jobs Don’t Sink Biden In Pennsylvania, His Proposal To Quash School Choice Might

Joe Biden traveled to Pennsylvania this week for his first campaign event outside of Delaware in quite some time. During this and future visits to Pennsylvania, critics of the former Vice President will focus on the Biden proposals that would harm the natural gas industry and kill fracking jobs in the battleground state won by Trump in 2016. But a position that might be more harmful to Biden’s electoral success in the Keystone State this November is his commitment to killing Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program, which provides better education options to tens of thousands of kids across Pennsylvania. 

“Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships,” explains EdChoice, a non-profit organization that promotes policies that expand school choice. “Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses. In some states, scholarship-giving nonprofits also provide innovation grants to public schools and/or transportation assistance to students choosing alternative public schools.”

18 states offer some form of tax credit scholarship program. Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program, which Biden proposes to scrap, was created in 2001. Today, Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program serves more than 51,000 children, with thousands more on waiting lists. 

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“Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships offer educational opportunity to more about 50,000 low- and moderate-income K-12 students—nearly 300,000 students are served by tax credit scholarships nationwide,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based think tank. “The programs give students a fair shot at a high-quality education that best meets their needs, while allowing businesses to give back to their communities by investing in education.”

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill in 2019 to expand the program so that more children could get off waiting lists and into a superior school of their choosing. That bill, however, was vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf (D) who, like Biden, carries the torch for the modern Democratic Party’s near lockstep opposition to policies and programs that expand school choice. 

The Biden-Sanders unity platform released early this summer makes clear that the position of a Biden White House would be to “Oppose any and all voucher and neo-voucher programs such as Education Savings Accounts and Tax-credit Scholarship programs.” Such a commitment is what teachers union bosses want to hear from Biden, but it’s one that will restrict education options for thousands of children from low and middle income households.

“Tax credit scholarships help primarily low-income families afford a better education in a private school,” writes Charles Mitchell, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “The scholarships are funded by private donations from community-minded businesses and individuals. In return, donors receive a state tax credit of 75 or 90% of their donation.”

“Biden’s proposal is a signal to parents across the country that his priority is not you, it’s the unions that fill his campaign war chest,” adds Benefield.

Governor Wolf claims he doesn’t want students to have education options restricted zip code, but last June he vetoed a bill to lift such geographic restrictions for thousands of kids. That bill, passed by both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature, would have expanded Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program, getting thousands of kids off of waiting lists and into better schools.  

Wolf himself is familiar with the advantages that come from having education options outside of the government-run school system. Wolf is a graduate of The Hill School, which charges $60,000 for tuition. Governor Wolf’s veto of HB 800 proves him to be a “school choice for me, but not for thee” politician, just like his Democratic counterpart in the North Carolina governor’s mansion. North Carolina Governor Cooper sends his kids to private school, yet just put forth a budget that would gut the state’s opportunity scholarship program that low-income students to also attend private schools. 

A map of other instances of school choice hypocrisy, showing where politicians support school choice for their own families but oppose it for others, has been created and maintained by the Educational Freedom Institute. Joe Biden himself appears on the School Choice Hypocrisy map, noting that Vice President Biden opposes funding programs that would allow less fortunate kids to attend private schools, even though he sent his own kids to an expensive private school.”

“Joe Biden attended private schools and sent his children to private schools,” said Corey DeAngelis, executive director of the Education Freedom Institute and director of school choice at the Reason Foundation. “I’m happy his family had those opportunities. But he shouldn’t fight against educational options for others.”

After spending nearly a half century in Washington, it’s easy to document how Joe Biden has already worked to decimate opportunity scholarship programs serving children from low income households. 

“Cruelest of all, Biden is a sworn enemy of the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, AKA the DC Voucher Program,” Deroy Murdock wrote in a recent New Hampshire Union-Leader column. Not only do opportunity scholarship programs like D.C.’s provide superior education options that get kids out of dangerous schools, they do so at reduced taxpayer cost, Murdock explains: 

“Since 2004-2005, DC OSP has granted some 8,400 vouchers to 21,057 applicants, the Congressional Research Service reports. In 2017-2018, 1,650 students used these ‘Pell Grants for kids’ at 44 private schools. In 2018-2019, elementary- and middle-schoolers received up to $8,857 each; for high schoolers: $13,287, tops. These are bargains compared to the $21,974 that the DC Public Schools spent per pupil in FY 2017, by the Census Bureau’s calculation”

Though Joe Biden and Barack Obama repeatedly tried to kill D.C.’s opportunity scholarship program, it continues to serve children today in large part due to John Boehner’s dogged commitment as U.S. House Speaker to keeping the program funding and operating. Boehner deserves credit for succeeding despite contending with a White House and well-funded teachers unions that very much wanted to kill the program.

The recent actions from battleground state governors like Tom Wolf and Roy Cooper, along with the Biden/Sanders unity manifesto backed by Joe Biden, make it clear to voters that the leaders of the modern Democratic Party are as committed as ever to killing and defunding programs that expand school choice. Depending on which way the November elections go, parents across the U.S. could see either an expansion of school choice in 2021, or an aggressive pullback in education options for their children. For voters who want increased taxes and reduced school choice, Joe Biden has made clear that he’s their guy.

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