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Senate Passes School Voucher Program; Bill Heads to House

Capping off an evening session, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a $100 million school voucher program to provide scholarships to help eligible students pay tuition, fees and special education services for attendance at a participating nonpublic school.

The program – titled the Pennsylvania Award For Student Success scholarship program (PASS) – has also been called “lifeline scholarships” and have been a wedge issue between the governor, Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg.

The measure passed the Senate by a 29-21 count with Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) crossing the aisle to vote with the Republican caucus.

The bill – House Bill 479 – now goes to the House where Democrats hold the slightest of majorities at 102-102.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland), Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong / Indiana / Jefferson / Westmoreland) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin (R-Lancaster / Berks) released a statement following the session.

“Successful governing requires cooperation and compromise. Tonight, the Senate has sent the House legislation to implement the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) Initiative, a bipartisan program to give children in Pennsylvania access to the best learning environment possible. Once House Bill 479 reaches the governor’s desk, we will continue our work to send the General Appropriations bill and all other budget related bills to the House.”

“This is really a historic thing to do here in Pennsylvania,” Ward added. “Making history is not easy and it’s not cheap. I’ll say that.”

“The goal of legislation like this – whether it’s a so-called “Lifeline Scholarship” or the “Pennsylvania Award for Student Success Scholarship Program” – is to push vulnerable students and families into private and religious schools where they check their Constitutional rights at the door,” said Sen. Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny). “Our students lose nearly every right afforded to them when they enroll in a private school.

“The bill before us today is a part of the long-term plan to defund, destabilize, and destroy public education. Voucher programs only came about after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision so that white families could attend segregated private schools and avoid integration, all on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks / Chester / Montgomery) added, “this effort is nothing more than a coordinated effort to privatize education in Pennsylvania and a slap in the face to everyone working so hard to lift up the school districts that have suffered the most from severe underfunding over the past few decades.”

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has said he would support the bill as long as it is part of a full budget agreement but not on its own.

6 Responses

  1. Shapiro’s support comes as no surprise too those who know he took $150,000 from the school choice PAC before he ran for Attorney General (and never investigated their blatant/textbook bribery of public officials).

  2. This program is only available to kids in sub-par performing (failing) public school districts. Most of these districts receive the highest per-capita state support, but have been sub-par (failing) for decades. Most school districts in PA perform well, others do not. This is about the kids in these districts, not the districts. It’s about the kids. Over the past 8 years, former Gov Wolf increased state support of public education, but these districts still fail. While someone figures it out, each year that goes by is another group of kids left out of a good education. This is only about the kids! Sen Anthony Williams gets it. Thank you on behalf of the kids Senator!

    1. It should also be about the under-performing schools, and parents. We need to get to the root of the problem and fix the school, so there is no need for “lifeline” scholarships. Fixing the school helps ALL THE KIDS in attendance there, not only a select few.

      1. False.

        You are on a boat with a hole it it, and sinking.
        Do you first: A) grab a life raft; or
        B) worry about fixing the hole?
        The answer is A. Save lives first, fix the hole later.

        1. What school vouchers do is
          1) sail up in a yacht to save a few kids for the cost of a new boat,
          2) only take a few kids, leaving the rest in the crappy boat
          3) pocket the money to make the rich richer
          4) deprive the public schools

          The ROOT of all this is two-fold
          1) Using vouchers to subsidize rich and upper-middle class to go to an expensive school (but not enough for a poor kid to afford the school
          2) White families using these subsidies to get their kids out of schools with a lot of black students.

    2. This is an attempt to make Pa students receive an education tantamount to that in Alabama. I attended both private and public schools.

      The better ones were public.


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