Pa. education panel backs limited voucher program

    The state Senate Education Committee has approved a measure calling for a limited school vouchers program and charter school changes in Pennsylvania.

    The plan restricts school vouchers to students from low- to middle-income families who attend or live within the district of one of the state’s 143 failing schools.

    Sponsor Sen. Jeff Piccola, a Dauphin County Republican, called the plan “vastly scaled back,” and argued it’s not as if the changes leave failing schools with no public funding.

    “The very nature of this bill constitutes a wake-up call to those schools,” he said. “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?’ “

    Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat, said vouchers would pull funding out of the state’s failing schools.

    “There’s no dispute that the overwhelming majority of those kids will be still in those schools.  What happens to those kids?” said Leach.  “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?”

    Sen. Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, said arguments that vouchers do nothing to fix failing schools strike him as out of touch.

    “Because the 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,” Williams said. “The ones we leave behind to support the system, not the families, the system, are the poor.

    The bill, which now heads to the full Senate, would increase funding for tax write-offs to businesses that contribute to private school scholarships and public school supplemental programs.

    Under the proposal, charter schools would face additional accountability, and school districts would be able to convert a public school to a charter.

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