Voucher opponents ready for a fight in Pennsylvania

    For the most part, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett steered clear of policy specifics during Tuesday’s inaugural address. He did, however, indicate support for a school vouchers bill, saying “choice” needs to be a part of education reform. “Our education system must contend with other nations, and so we must embrace innovation, competition and choice in our education system,” he said. The comments are another sign the vouchers measure will be a priority for Republicans this year. Opponents of the bill are taking notice and gearing up for a fight. Timothy Allwein of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association made the argument many public school advocates are voicing: vouchers programs cede too much authority to private schools. “As far as we know, neither Senate Bill 1 nor any other voucher proposal that we heard about would require a school to take a student who has a student voucher,” he said Wednesday. “So really what it boils down to is the school making the choice, not necessarily the parents of the student making the choice, which is what supporters of the legislation are always touting.” Allwein is also worried the vouchers measure would divert too much money from school districts.Senate Bill 1 funds the vouchers with funding from the state’s basic education subsidy. Co-sponsor Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, has dismissed the concern, arguing schools would have fewer students to worry about, if kids take advantage of the vouchers program. Allwein disagreed. “Just because you take maybe 25 or 30 kids out of a district, or even out of a specific school, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve reduced the cost in that district or school. You still have to pay the teachers, you still have to pay the utility bills, etc, etc, etc,” he said. It’s unclear when Senate hearings will begin. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said he’ll make sure the debate will be about broader education reform, pointing out many voucher supporters also want to cut the state’s education funding. Vouchers are “not the silver bullet that’s going to solve our education problems going forward.  It’s a more comprehensive approach to how we spend our education resources, is what the discussion needs to be about. Vouchers is just one part of that,” he said.

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