Turzai Proposes School Voucher Program for Harrisburg School Families
On Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) released a plan to create a new school voucher program for students in the Harrisburg School District.
Turzai, who has been a vocal supporter of school choice programs, said the bill would establish a “pilot scholarship program” that would help these students “affordably attend a nearby private or other public school,” while the Harrisburg School District was placed under state control earlier this year.
“Every child deserves access to quality education, and we have a responsibility to ensure that families who cannot afford that education receive assistance to do it,” Turzai said in the memo. “In some situations, the needs of Pennsylvania children require comprehensive intervention to make sure they receive a proper education.”
PennLive reports that based on Harrisburg’s current state aid figures, the bill would create “grants of about $7,100 per student” which could be used to pay tuition at any private or public school.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who vetoed a $100 million proposal aimed at expanding Educational Improvement Tax Credit proposed by Turzai in June, does not support Turzai’s new plan either. A spokesperson for Wolf told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Tuesday that the Governor “opposes voucher programs that divert tax dollars from public schools to private schools” and added that he doesn’t think the program would help all students.
Local officials have chimed in to Turzai’s plan with mixed reactions.
State Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) told PennLive that she thinks Turzai is “taking advantage of the Harrisburg School District’s vulnerable position to push his own political agenda.” State Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that he “appreciated Turzai’s interest in helping Harrisburg’s students” and said although he hasn’t been able to review the proposed legislation yet, it is “worthy of further consideration.”
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, a Democrat, said he is open to the plan on Wednesday, according to PennLive.
“Although there are changes that could make the policy stronger, like putting income limits on families who qualify so we can maximize the impact on those who need the most help, access to quality education is a must,” Papenfuse said in a statement to PennLive. “We need to have a broader discussion about how to fix public education in places like Harrisburg. But we can’t let an entire generation go without access to quality education in the meantime.”