Pa. education secretary confirmation gives way to debate of private school vouchers known as 'lifeline scholarships'

Education Secretary Khalid Mumin and Gov. Josh Shapiro support them, over objection by other Democrats
Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Khalid Mumin
Acting Secretary of Education Dr. Khalid Mumin and Gov. Josh Shapiro have said they support school choice models but not at the expense of local school districts. Photo credit Pennsylvania Department of Education

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Senate confirmed Gov. Josh Shapiro's nomination of Dr. Khalid Mumin as secretary of the Department of Education on Monday after a debate over school choice made waves in the otherwise still waters of his confirmation hearing.

“I would not be here today without the teachers and mentors who supported me. Our schools are more than buildings: They are conduits of hope,” Mumin said in a Department of Education statement released after the vote. “I will take the experiences I have gained through my life and career to carry out Gov. Shapiro’s vision so that every Pennsylvania student has the freedom to chart their own course and the opportunity to succeed.”

The Senate Education Committee had unanimously given the former Lower Merion School District superintendent a favorable recommendation, but at his hearing Monday, Mumin was asked about the Shapiro administration’s stance on tuition vouchers for K-12 students in the lowest-performing public schools, dubbed “lifeline scholarships” by supporters.

“The governor's perspective or focus on lifeline scholarships has not changed," Mumin said. "He says he's open to the discussion, but not at the detriment of monies coming from the public schools.”


Western Pennsylvania Democratic State Sen. Lindsey Williams said that’s impossible. “Any and every public tax dollar that is sent to a private or religious school is one less dollar that can be sent to our public schools,” she said.

Williams said she has lost sleep over Mumin’s support for the scholarships.

“Any dollar that goes to an unaccountable private institution instead of our public schools, is a moral failure and a constitutional violation.”

Philadelphia and Delaware County Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams spoke in support of vouchers, saying schools in his senate district are failing students.

“Vouchers may not be the way. Charters may not be the way. But I will tell you, standing still is certainly not the way. We must move forward,” Williams said.

“I have multiple high schools in my district that have zero proficiency in mathematics. Zero proficiency in mathematics. The house is now on fire. And what are the parents supposed to do? Wait for us to debate about funding for another 20 years?”

The budget is due Friday. Mumin says, to his knowledge, Lifeline Scholarships are not part of this year’s budget discussion.

Delaware County Democratic Sen. Tim Kearney said in response: “I have a feeling that there might be conversations going on that you're not necessarily privy to yet.”

Mumin started his career in education as an English teacher in Franklin County, according to the department. Most recently, he was Lower Merion School District superintendent. Prior to that, he was superintendent of Reading School District.

Pennsylvania Senate committees gave their seals of approval to several of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s cabinet nominees on Monday. They are set for a final vote later this week.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Education