Pa. Senate Passes Low-Income Voucher Bill
By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer
By a (relatively) narrow 27-22 vote, the state Senate Wednesday passed the long-awaited plan to implement a new taxpayer funded private school vouchers scheme for low-performing schools in Pennsylvania.
It’s a political win for school choice advocates like Tom Corbett – for the moment. The Governor applauded members of the Senate for passing the bill.
“I want to commend the members of the state Senate for passing a strong education reform package that will help improve opportunities for thousands of school children throughout Pennsylvania,’’ Corbett said.
Under the plan children from households making less than $29,000 a year would be eligible to receive a full voucher of equal to what is spent in the district in which they live. Students from households earning less than $41,000 would get a voucher equal to 75 percent of the subsidy amount. On average, a family would receive $7,700 for each student, but could get as much as $13,000.
Both the PSEA (Pennsylvania State Education Association) and the PSBA (Pennsylvania School Board Association) strongly oppose Corbett’s plan. They were disappointed with the state funding cuts which forced already struggling school districts to increase class sizes, decrease course offerings and cut programs. The PSEA and the PSBA say school vouchers will take even more money away from public schools.
Wednesday, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Association) released a statement accusing the PA Senate of ignoring its obligations to the state legislature by passing private school vouchers.
For students from low-income backgrounds, especially black and minority households the voucher plan would provide an opportunity to get out of some of the states worst schools. Despite the widening achievement gap nationwide, students will have the chance attend more competitive schools, take Advanced Placement courses, and ultimately become more viable candidates for competitive colleges and universities.
Advocacy groups like Dropout Nation expect the passage of this plan will start a conversation about expanding voucher plans to middle-class households, especially in the suburbs.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration where support for the taxpayer-funded voucher system remains uncertain. House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, told the Patriot-News he doubts that the House will pass the education reform plan.