A Look at SB1
By Tom Mulkeen, Contributing Writer
The education talk in Harrisburg has mostly been about Governor Corbett’s cuts to public universities and school districts in the state, but one of the most controversial issues in education reform has been the use of vouchers in the school choice bill.
Senate Bill 1 would allow some parents to send their children to charter and private schools using government-funded vouchers. The Bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin County) and Sen. Anthony Williams (D- Philadelphia) and has been passed by the Education Committee in the Pennsylvania Senate, but is currently tied up in the Appropriations Committee, which also has to deal with the recently proposed budget.
Williams and Piccola argue that the bill gives low-income parents across Pennsylvania the opportunity to send their children to higher performing schools regardless of how much money they are or where they are located. Initially, vouchers would be available to low-income students who attend one of 144 “persistently failing” schools in the state according to the Post-Gazette. However, by the third year of the plan, vouchers would be available to all low-income students regardless of what school they currently attend.
“Every child and every family in Pennsylvania deserves equal access to a high quality education. Whether it’s a private, public, religious, cyber or charter school parents should decide what is best for their child. Education should not be determined by a person’s income or zip code,” said Dawn Chavous of Students First in a press release compiled by groups supportive of the bill.
Opponents of the bill argue that the plan is too costly and actually hurts public schools because it takes away money from them. State Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) argues in the previous article that voucher programs instituted in Ohio and Wisconsin have shown that children enrolled in private schools on vouchers do not perform better on standardized tests than comparable children in public schools.
Vouchers were an important component of the budget proposal by Gov. Corbett and could eventually cost up to $1 billion per year according to the Allentown Morning Call. Governor Ridge originally proposed a voucher program during his administration in the 1990s but was unsuccessful. Governor Rendell was a fierce opponent of vouchers and instead opted to spend more money in public school districts where it was needed the most, which he argues was successful in the previous article.