Pa. school voucher bill legislation sees new life, final push underway
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are not allowing school voucher legislation to fall by the wayside, as news outlets are reporting a Senate committee will vote to amend a House bill that offers tax credits for donors that pay for private school education.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports:
The Senate Education Committee will consider amending a bill, which already passed the House, with a two-year voucher plan for low-income children who attend the lowest-performing 5 percent of Pennsylvania schools, according to lawmakers close to the issue.
The bill provides for the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which gives business-funded scholarships to low income students.
Gov. Tom Corbett met with House leaders yesterday to discuss “education reform,” said House GOP spokesman, Steve Miskin. Corbett met with House Speaker Sam Smith and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. Senate leaders left the floor for a late-afternoon meeting on vouchers, a senator said.
Until recently, SB1 has been the chief focus of advocates and detractors of school voucher proposals. Republican Senate Education Chairman Jeffrey Piccola and Democrat Sen. Anthony Williams introduced that piece of legislation in January. It has yet to come to a full vote in the Senate.
Steve Miskin, spokesperson for House Majority Floor Leader Mike Turzai (R), tells TAI, “we’ll see what happens, what the Senate does. They’ve got the bills.” He stressed the main concern for Turzai is getting the budget and its ancillary provisions passed. Miskin was vague on whether legislators will stay past June 30 to consider a last-minute voucher bill. “We’ll be staying until the budget is completed,” he said.
David Broderic, spokesperson for the state affiliate of the country’s largest union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), told TAI, “We’re watching it very carefully. We’re very concerned about voucher plans launching without any public review.”
Asked whether PSEA worries over a mounted summer campaign by conservative group FreedomWorks, which in recent days has upped its blunt tactics to pressure leading Republicans to support SB1, Broderic said, “Certainly we’re concerned about public interest groups with unlimited resources to expend funds. But we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing…showing voucher [programs in other states] have a track record of failure.”
He pointed to an April poll commissioned by opponents of school voucher legislation that showed nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians oppose an education program that uses public dollars to private-school tuition.
The Patriot-News reports the meeting between Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and leading legislators on Tuesday was an effort to outline sketches for voucher legislation on which both chambers could agree:
At a late afternoon closed-door meeting, Corbett made his pitch personally to House and Senate Republican leaders.
Afterward, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said there’s interest in the Senate in enacting some school choice components and interest in the House in enacting others. “Whether it comes together, I think, [today] is D-Day for that. We’re running out of time,” Scarnati said.
He said there was no package in place Tuesday night. But staffers planned to work through the night on a plan that mixes some charter school reforms with school choice measures. It could see Senate committee action today.
A total of five school choice bills including SB1 are on the table in the Legislature, with four creating an expansive voucher program that would use public tax dollars to fund child education at a private school.
The three voucher bills in the House vary in their proximity to the terms in SB 1. One would place no income eligibility or geographic restrictions on who could qualify for the tuition vouchers, set at $5,000. Another proposed law, written by Republican Rep. Jim Christiana, is more restrictive than the Senate version, capping the income eligibility to 250 percent of the federal poverty line versus the upper chamber’s 350 percent. A third bill would grant $5,000 to students enrolled in a persistently struggling public school. TAI has written extensively on what each bill entails and their associated costs.