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School voucher bill proposed in Pennsylvania House, less expansive than Senate’s SB1

The long slog that has been the debate over school vouchers in Pennsylvania is nearing a climax, with a state representative planning on introducing a more limited version of theSenate bill in the House.

Rep. Jim Christiana (R) distributed a memo Wednesday to House members seeking co-sponsors for his Students & School Rescue Act. In the memo, Christiana wrote his proposed legislation will incorporate an earlier House bill that would expand the state’sEducational Improvement Tax Credit, a program that rewards tax credits to families and third party groups that make funds available for middle-income students to attend private schools.

The representative’s proposal differs from the Senate voucher bill in several ways. A narrower swath of the population would be eligible, and as a student’s household income increases, the value of the voucher will go down. Below is a breakdown of Christiana’s eligibility requirements (the Senate’s follows), with FPL standing for the federal poverty line.

Up to 100 percent of the FPL: 1.0

101 percent to 150 percent of the FPL: .90

151 percent to 200 percent of the FPL: .75

201 percent to 250 percent of the FPL: .50

Christiana’s memo also indicated the voucher “will be available to low-income children who (1) attended a low achieving school during the 2011 12 school year or will enroll in kindergarten in a low achieving for the 2012-13 school year; and (2) will reside within the attendance boundary of allow achieving school as of the first day of class. A low achieving school district will be defined as the lowest performing 10% of school districts.”

And the Senate’s eligibility requirements:

2012-2013 – Year One – Low-income children in failing schools eligible for Opportunity Scholarships

2013-2014 – Year Two – Low-income children in attendance boundaries of failing schools eligible

2014-2015 – Year Three – All low-income children statewide eligible

2015-2016 – Year Four – Middle-Income eligibility expanded further

The middle-income cap will be set at 350 percent of the FPL, which amounts to $78,225 in today’s dollars.

Cato education analyst Adam Schaeffer wrote the legislator’s memo suggests the House version of the voucher bill will be “worse than the Senate version, especially on the regulatory front.” Christiana wants the state Department of Education to mete out rules of governance and oversight, creating an Education Opportunity Board whose members would be selected by the legislature and would be asked to approve the department’s regulations. Schaeffer writes SB1 did not go that far, and worries the House version would allow the department to issue regulatory mandates.

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