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PA Union’s Vendetta Against School Choice Isn’t Afraid of Jay-Z

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Jay-Z promotional poster

Teachers’ union opposition to school choice is nothing new. But the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) vendetta against school vouchers offered through the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) has focused on an unexpected target.

Jay-Z.

What is the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS)?

Also known as Lifeline Scholarships, vouchers offered through Senate Bill 757 would grant low-income families enrolled in Pennsylvania’s underperforming schools up to $15,000 toward alternative educational options, including private and charter schools.

Supported by 77% of registered Pennsylvania voters, Lifeline Scholarships would provide students with a direct escape route from classrooms ranking in the bottom 15% of Pennsylvania school performance, where just 31% of children are proficient in English and zero students can solve grade-level math problems.

But as the deadline for the state’s 2024–25 budget approaches, an attempt by lawmakers to rush SB 757 to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk has met fierce opposition.

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AFT has expressed “total opposition to voucher systems” at the national level since at least 1979, and the union’s Keystone State affiliate has followed suit throughout the ongoing school choice debate.

Shapiro supported school vouchers during his 2022 campaign, but he predictably changed his tune after AFT funneled $750,000 of its members’ dues money into his campaign war chest.

In response to the most recent PASS proposal, revived after Shapiro exercised his line-item veto to kill it, AFT Pennsylvania drew a line in the sand in a joint letter submitted to the governor’s office, describing its “deep concern and complete opposition to the idea of implementing any school voucher program” in the state.

“Any discussion about tuition voucher schemes,” the letter continued, is “unacceptable.”

Jay-Z and other celebries support PASS

AFT Pennsylvania’s hostility toward school choice runs counter not only to public opinion but also to the views of a growing number of celebrities who have thrown their weight behind PASS.

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Rapper Meek Mill, comedian Kevin Hart, and others have donated upward of $24 million to provide scholarships enabling Philadelphia students to attend private schools.

Musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z has likewise expressed support for PASS.

Jay-Z’s pro-voucher push has included information sessions and a widespread advertising campaign to mobilize Pennsylvanians in support of educational choice.

According to representatives from Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, the rapper became committed to the voucher issue not only through his longtime initiative to fund college scholarships, but also thanks to his familiarity with Pennsylvania.

Not even Jay-Z, however, is immune to AFT’s onslaught.

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On June 7, AFT Pennsylvania tweeted a clear-cut message in response to the musician’s campaign: “This ain’t it.”

Union president Arthur Steinberg reemphasized AFT’s intransigence three days later: “The crisis in public education funding in America could have been solved a long time ago if billionaires like … Jay-Z simply paid their fair share in taxes instead of robbing needed money from public schools to fund failed voucher schemes which hurt poor kids.”

Steinberg labeled Jay-Z’s advocacy a “ploy to influence lawmakers who are on the precipice of finally fixing our education system.”

Playing for power

Desperate to mitigate any threat to its political power and its monopoly over public education, AFT will likely continue to track down and denounce any supporters of school choice in Pennsylvania, regardless of their prominence.

And if AFT remains successful in steering Gov. Shapiro clear of popular school vouchers, then union monopoly over public education isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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This article was originally published by RealClearPennsylvania and made available via RealClearWire.

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East Coast Director at | htower@freedomfoundation.com | + posts

Hunter Tower is the East Coast director of the Freedom Foundation.

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