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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.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sens. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin) and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), passed following a more than four-hour debate.

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.

Check out the coverage in the Inquirer, Tribune Review, Patriot News and PA Independent.

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.

Promoters of the plan, such as REACH Alliance & Foundation and Commonwealth Foundation believe that the competition created by the voucher plan will ultimately improve schools.

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.

17 Responses

  1. Sounds like more good old fashioned welfare to me. Give my tax money to minorities who don’t pay school tax. So they can send there kids to a school I pay for ,on top of school tax for my children to go. If there parents can’t better there kids life that’s there problem. Enough is enough. The world needs ditch diggers too.

  2. There are a lot of myths floating around these comments. First off, Catholic schools in the city of Philadelphia educate 43,000 students most of who are NOT Catholic nor will they become Catholic. It is the mission of Catholic schools to teach in a faith based environment not convert. By the way, Catholic schools are accountable, have higher standards than those set by the state and take harder national assessment tests than public schools. Second, Catholic schools do accept and deal with “special needs” as well as if not better than the public schools in the city. In fact, there are 4 Catholic Schools of special education that deal with the most difficult special needs students. Some of these students by the way were sent to these schools by the public school system.

    Finally, the EITC portion of this bill goes a long way in getting more dollars into the hands of the middle class families who are struggling. Increased funding in this area will help more families in a broader range of income needs.

  3. Wonderful!!! Its about time! As for the majority of opinions listed about, I guarantee you do not have children or at least ones who are subject to attending a public school where there are no morals and its ok to have sexual perversion on the public buses durgs and and openess to bisexuality because according to you that is ‘normal’ but to you to God is abnormal ???? So keep you athiest children in your public schools where they can rot their brain, literally!

  4. this bill is wrong, if we are going to have a bill like this it should include all children of all families no matter our income, we are still paying taxes as well. we should not be punished because we chose to work harder and do whatever possible to earn more and get ahead.

  5. They will all go to parochial schools. I will not vote for anyone who voted for this bill. It’s just another way to support churches. Will do nothing for kids doing poorly. Parochial schools will not take behavior problems or special needs students.

  6. This bill is horrendous. Every Tea Party should oppose it, for it is nothing more than another welfare bailout for Philadelphia. It won’t improve student performance, and once again, the middle class gets the shaft. Vouchers for all, or at least the middle class too, or nothing. Why is it always either/or? Don’t middle class students rate too?

    Wake up. there is a reason the unions are darn near silent on this bill. IT IS MEANINGLESS!! They don’t fear it because it is so small in scope. The Right is so cowardly. WHy don’t they fight for a bill that would REALLY make schools better? Gee, that might require hard work. What is the point of a Republican guv and legislature if they don’t do anything?

  7. just part of the privatize everything movement-except for crony capitalists who continue to ghet our tax dollars to subsidize their profits.Waste Management gets $$400,000 for a fueling station-you don’t even get a T shirt…

  8. In Philadelphia, it is the politically connected that go to best schools. Vouchers mean the politically connected, including those connected to union leadership, do not have special advantages.

    Teachers are protecting the system, not the student. Vouchers give kids and parents greater control and an opportunity, not a guarantee.

  9. The take-away message, politically [from the GOP-perspective], is that this transpired despite the aggressive opposition from some people in the TEA Party Movement.

    The damage will undoubtedly heal, but it reflects the fact that some elements in the TPM have not matured as much as have others; if the former wish to catch-up, they may wish to heed advice that they shed alliances with those known to be morally-challenged.

    For documentation of this case-study, peruse the following hyperlink:

  10. Every child can attend the school that their grades and conduct will allow them into. It’s not a matter of “political connections.” I sure wish the unionized public school employees would see past their own self-interest on this one for two seconds.

    Kids in Philly are forced to go to persistently violent, failing neighborhood schools, and that just is not America. It should not be. It must not be.

    If parents vote with their feet, that is always for the good. Bad schools will change. Bad admin. will be forced out. Parents get the control back.

    Philly used to have the best schools in the nation, and when it did, the parents chose.

  11. Disingenuously, the school teachers say there will less money for those students who do not choose vouchers. In fact, because vouchers are less than school allocations, the there will be MORE MONEY per student for those who stay in the failed schools. The Unions are less than honest about the reality.

    As to schools, right now there is no choice. there will be some choice and as these vouchers succeed, and few things happen quickly, new schools will come on market. that is how free market work. Demand is an incentive for Supply. If government schools taught economic literacy, there would not be this kind of misinformation.

  12. But can every child attend these private schools? Or only those who have political connections or those who are already good students? What happens to the majority of children ? Will their already poor public schools receive even less money?

  13. Every day we, the people of Pennsylvania, and the government force mothers to send their kids to violent and educationally failing schools. Vouchers for the poorest and most vulnerable are the only way out.

    Sen. Piccola has advocated this solution for years; Sen. Williams is committed and the Governor has done what he promised to do and that is a very, very big deal.

  14. This is a disgrace. Paying for private schools, while taking money away from public schools should be illegal. Private schools can discriminate against which students they permit to attend their institutions. Public schools will fall even further when “good” students leave to attend private schools, leaving the state free to give even less money to our public schools which need all the help they can get. I resent my tax dollars going towards schools that do not have to follow the same rules as public schools!

  15. The EITC program, which SB1 would expand, currently uses state tax money (corporate tax dollars that would otherwise go to the state) to pay for students to attend private schools – about 80% of these are religious schools, and some of them use fundamentalist textbooks that teach “Young-Earth” creationism and promote religious bigotry.

    While SB1 backers claim the bill would improve education, the likelihood is that is would degrade public schools and fund unaccountable private schools not subject to curriculum oversight.

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