GOP, Corbett agree on Pa. school voucher plan

    Senate Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett have agreed on a framework for a school vouchers bill. The understanding, reached earlier this week, puts the GOP priority back on track for a spring vote.

    The Senate had been ready to vote for the vouchers bill in early April, but Republican leaders pulled the measure after Corbett Administration officials raised concerns over its long-term cost. At the time, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said the measure would be “tweaked,” not overhauled.

    That appears to be the case: the vouchers program would still be rolled out over a three-year period, gradually expanding from low-income students in failing schools to low-income students across Pennsylvania. In year four, middle-class families making up to 350 percent of the federal poverty line would be eligible for vouchers.

    The program’s start would be delayed until 2012, and costs could be capped to 3 percent of the previous year’s state education spending. That works out to a cap of about $163 million in 2014, if state spending stays on its current track.

    “The changes have more to do with the timing and the method of expression of the cap on spending in some of the out years,” said Pileggi. “But the basic structure of the bill remains intact. It is a bill that’s designed to help poor kids trapped in persistently failing schools.”

    Pileggi and other Senate GOP leaders are now focused on working out differences with their House counterparts.

    “Now that we have the governor’s specific, strong endorsement of this particular bill, we need to work with the House. And if they need minor changes, if they need amendments to the bill, we’d like to try and incorporate them and accelerate the process,” he said. “Those discussions are ongoing. And hopefully by next week we’re all on the same page in trying to get this bill enacted and have this bill pass through the Senate and House, and on to the governor’s desk.”

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