By Christina Gongaware, Contributing Writer
As the state Senate pushed back the vote on a bill that would introduce school vouchers to Pennsylvania for alterations, Gov. Tom Corbett and Republicans are stressing parents’ desire to have increased control over their children’s education while educators assert that the bill will only siphon more money from schools in need.
Busloads of students and parents traveled to the Capitol on Tuesday in support of S.B. 1 as both Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley addressed the crowd.
Corbett also privately spoke with Republican Senators.
“We’re talking about the future of Pennsylvania,” Corbett said. “I’m very proud to be able to support the efforts to bring school choice to Pennsylvania; to allow parents to do what they believe is in the best interest of their students.”
The bill would introduce vouchers incrementally, beginning with the lowest-achieving 144 public schools during the first two years. The first three years would also see eligibility capped at 130 percent of the poverty level.
The Appropriations Committee amended the bill to include a middle-class voucher program, which would kick in after four years. This would increase the eligibility to 300 percent above the poverty level.
PA Democrats are calling the delay a political defeat for Governor Corbett.
Public schools would accept transfer students based on a lottery system, while private schools would be free to choose students based on their enrollment criteria.
“Yesterday’s failure to pass school voucher legislation is a huge political defeat for Gov. Corbett, who personally appealed for Senate votes for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers and spent his afternoon on a megaphone rallying support for the legislation among pro-voucher activists,” said Democratic Party Spokesman Mark Nicastre. “It shows how deeply unpopular the governor is as he tries to pass a budget that’s balanced on the backs of Pennsylvania taxpayers.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association opposes the legislation. Their website states, “PSEA believes using taxpayer dollars to give parents vouchers to send their children to private schools does not benefit students, families or public schools. Pennsylvania’s education funding should be devoted to improving public schools, not subsidizing private schools.”
Furthermore, they declare that the majority of Pennsylvanians oppose such a bill. The group Pennsylvanians Opposed to Vouchers recently conducted a poll of 807 adults in March that found 61 percent against the idea of vouchers.
Two-thirds of those who said they supported vouchers also said that they would be less likely to support them if it cost the state $1 billion, a number on the high end of estimates from politicians.
Despite the projected costs, Corbett still believes that the program is integral for the country.
“Our education system must contend with other nations and so we must embrace innovation, competition, and choice in our education system,” he said in his inaugural address.
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) also believes that the bill would offer underprivileged students a better chance for success.
“I am an opponent of failing public schools, not of public education,” White said. “I cannot sit back and watch us fail these kids again.”