shapiro plays to left

Charles Mitchell: Josh Shapiro Plays to the Middle While Pleasing the Left

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s handling of Lifeline Scholarships threatens to upend the moderate image that drives his popularity among Pennsylvania voters, writes Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Charles Mitchell in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Thus far, our governor has played it both ways when it comes to rescuing students from failing schools. “He’s been able to continue pandering to the 77% of Pennsylvanians who support the scholarships, calling school choice ‘unfinished business,’” Mitchell argues. Shapiro must show the leadership he promised but has yet to deliver.

Mitchell writes:

Josh Shapiro is leaning into this image as the state legislature negotiates next year’s budget, indicating that he supports a school-choice scholarship program for low-income students—a popular policy across the political aisle. But he’s so far shown that appearing moderate is more important than passing moderate policies.

Consider what happened when school choice came up last year. The governor forged a deal with Senate Republicans to create a $100 million program—Lifeline Scholarships—for low-income kids in the state’s worst schools. But after the House and Senate passed the bill, he vetoed his own victory.

Was last year’s school-choice fiasco a one-off? Hardly. On multiple occasions, Gov. Shapiro has pulled a similar stunt, playing to moderates while pleasing liberals. He’s done so twice since the start of the year.

Gov. Shapiro must prove it. He’s saying many of the right things about the need to empower kids, especially those who attend truly awful schools—no small thing for a Democrat with national ambitions.

But the governor hasn’t used his bully pulpit to pressure his fellow Democrats in the legislature. That’s what leadership would look like …

The worst thing Gov. Shapiro can do is repeat last year’s failure. It would cement a new image, one of someone who promises moderate change, while winking at progressives that he doesn’t really mean it.

Passing Lifeline Scholarships may be Josh Shapiro’s last chance to prove he’s a true moderate.

You can read Charles Mitchell’s entire op-ed here.


The Commonwealth Foundation turns free-market ideas into public policies, fostering prosperity for all Pennsylvanians.