Pennsylvania Senate Passes Sweeping School Choice Expansion

Oct 26, 2011, 18:39 ET from American Federation for Children

Plan would create voucher program for failing schools, expand existing tax credit scholarship program

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania State Senate today took a significant step towards expanding educational options to low-income children and kids in failing schools, passing legislation that would create a new voucher program and increase funding for the state's existing scholarship tax credit program.

The American Federation for Children—the nation's voice for school choice—calls on the House of Representatives to follow the Senate's lead and pass the plan, which is an amended version of Senate Bill 1, a proposed school choice expansion introduced earlier this year. The bill, which passed 27-22 today with bipartisan support, would grant scholarships to students in the bottom five percent of Pennsylvania schools and also increase funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program by $25 million next year and an additional $25 million in 2014.

Championed by Sens. Jeffrey Piccola (R) and Anthony Williams (D), the legislation now moves onto the House for consideration. If passed in the lower chamber and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett—who unveiled a similar education reform plan earlier this month—it would give thousands of additional Pennsylvania students the opportunity to attend the school of their parents' choice.

"The Senate, backed by the leadership of Sens. Williams and Piccola, has taken an important step towards greater educational equality for Pennsylvania kids," said Betsy DeVos, chairman of AFC. "We're grateful for their hard work, but now the responsibility rests with the House to make sure that it hasn't been in vein."

By the second year of the voucher program, eligibility would be expanded to students who live in the districts containing the state's worst-performing schools. By the seventh year, all students in schools that rank in the bottom half of state math and reading exams would be eligible for the program.

There are already more than 42,000 low-income students participating in the EITC Program, currently the lone private school choice offering in the Keystone State. If the legislation passes the House, the new voucher program would make Pennsylvania the 11th state to enact or expand a private school choice program this year. Programs were also restored and enacted in Washington, D.C. and Douglas County, CO, respectively.

The Senate passage comes just over two weeks after Gov. Corbett pledged his support for the provisions in the amendment, which also includes strengthened accountability and academic standards in the state's Charter and Cyber Charter School Law.

Last spring, the House approved an expansion of the EITC program and is currently in the process of working on its own charter school reform legislation. House members are expected to take up this measure sometime next month.

SOURCE American Federation for Children