Committee shuffle could make difference for Pa. school choice bill

Students arrive on the first day of school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Students arrive on the first day of school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A contentious proposal to let students use Pennsylvania funds to pay for private school is getting another chance to make it onto the Senate floor.

Senate Bill 2 would create education savings accounts — a similar concept to private school vouchers — that would let students in the lowest-performing public schools use the money the state would have spent on their education for alternative school options, as well as textbooks and other related expenses.

It failed to pass the Senate Education Committee in a tie vote in late October, and is now scheduled to be reconsidered in the same committee Tuesday.

However, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, one of the only GOP lawmakers to vote against the bill in October, may be moving off the panel.

That could change the outcome of the vote, though Laughlin said his likely departure is unrelated to the bill.

“I can see why it looks the way it does,” he said. “It had nothing to do with my decision, no.”

He said he asked to leave “a month or two ago” to join the Economic Development Committee, though he didn’t give an exact date.

He said the primary reason he’d been on the committee in the first place was to address funding issues in the Erie School District.

“Once I knew I had the funding secured, that kind of was the end of my main interest on that,” he said.

Early on Monday, Laughlin said he had the impression he’d be taken off the committee before Tuesday’s scheduled vote on the voucher bill.

But Drew Crompton, chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, later said nothing is definite.

He also noted the voucher vote may end up being delayed as well.

“All these things have to be worked out, which is one of the reasons we’re not ready to make a decision,” he said.

Supporters of Senate Bill 2 say it gives kids and their parents necessary choices when it comes to education. Opponents say it weakens already-struggling public schools.

Gov. Tom Wolf has previously said he opposes “any program that diverts funding away from public schools.”

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