Corbett outlines plans for Pennsylvania schools

    Governor Tom Corbett has announced his four-part plan for education reform in Pennsylvania.

    Corbett wants to put a state commission in charge of approving and overseeing charter schools; he said school districts shouldn’t hold all the power to approve new charters.

    Corbett also wants to make sure vouchers allow students from low-income families to pick their school, when they would otherwise be attending one of the state’s worst-performing schools.

    The governor, who visited the Lincoln Charter School in York Tuesday to announce his proposals, said he also wants to expand the tax credit program for businesses that fund scholarships. And Corbett said teacher evaluations should be based in part on student performance and should help determine merit pay and tenure.

    Reaction to the governor’s plans has been mixed, with several groups focusing on the issue of vouchers.

    Tom Gentzel, director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, says the commonwealth shouldn’t be draining money out of its public schools in this manner.

    “We would much prefer to see attention paid to improving those schools, those underperforming public schools, for all students,” Gentzel said.

    Corbett maintains vouchers won’t leave public schools high and dry.

    “What moves to the new school is the state subsidy. The old school still keeps its taxes in their school district,” the governor said.

    Susan Spicka, a Cumberland County parent, stood outside the school where Governor Corbett was speaking. She cited a poll done for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a group against school vouchers.

    “Sixty-five percent of Pennsylvanians do not support using public money to pay private school tuition and only 11 percent of Pennsylvanians strongly support a voucher program,” Spicka said. “One of our main questions to Gov. Corbett is, if the majority of Pennsylvanians don’t support vouchers, I don’t know why he does.”

    Another group that points to that same survey is the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which says the governor’s vouchers plan would drain tax dollars out of public schools and calls Corbett’s plans to rapidly expand charter schools irresponsible.

    The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania support Corbett’s plan, calling his school choice proposal to give students vouchers a matter of social justice.

    The conservative Commonwealth Foundation also endorsed the governor’s plan and urged the Legislature to pass the proposals this fall so the changes can be made in time for the next school year.

    In the interest of disclosure, PSEA provides funding for WHYY’s coverage of state government issues.

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