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School Vouchers Move in Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee has approved a measure that contains a limited school vouchers program and charter school reform. The measure could be called in the full Senate later this week.

The plan restricts school vouchers to students from low- to middle-income families who live within the district of one of the state's 143 failing schools. Sponsor Senator Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin) called the plan "vastly scaled back," and argues it's not as if the reforms leave failing schools with no public funding.

Piccola said, "The very nature of this bill constitutes a wakeup call to those schools the administrators of those school districts and those school buildings should immediately begin asking themselves the question, why are parents taking their kids out, why are kids leaving?"

Senator Daylin Leach (D- Montgomery) argued that vouchers would only pull funding out of the state's failing schools and not do much to help the districts. "There's no dispute that the overwhelming majority of those kids will be still in those schools. What happens to those kids? What happens to the 92, 93 percent of the kids who are still in the old school, but who now have to try to eke out an education with even fewer resources."

"[T]he reality is, those who have means, and I mean, middle class and above, have decided to either move away from the problem, move into a better school district, pay for a private school. The ones we leave behind to support the system, not the families, the system, are the poor," said Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).

The measure also allows districts to convert a public school into a charter school and would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program for businesses that fund private school scholarships and public school supplemental programs. EITC would eventually see its funding go from $75 million to $125 million, with the possibility of additional increases.

Absent from the bill is Corbett's proposed statewide entity to approve and oversee charter schools, intended to give potential charters a way around districts that do not approve their applications.