Pa. Senate passes limited voucher bill

The state Senate has passed a proposal to create vouchers for 17 school districts in 11 counties throughout Pennsylvania.

The plan, which has bipartisan support, would create the vouchers for students from low-income families.

But those students would need to be living in one of the school districts containing the worst performing schools in Pennsylvania–such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg. Possible voucher amounts would be about $10,000 in Delaware County, which has nine failing schools with most in Chester-Upland, and $6,000 in Philadelphia, where 88 schools are failing.

Some Democrats say they can’t support a vouchers plan when it would only benefit certain constituencies.

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But Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia, who helped write the vouchers plan, said lawmakers voting against it should remember they’re not representing individual fiefdoms, but a commonwealth.

“It concerns me that we have a perspective that if it doesn’t affect me and mine, then I can’t support it,” Williams said. “That’s a decision you will have to make, not me.”

Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Lehigh County Democrat whose district includes none of the failing schools, has a different perspective. She said she’d rather see more state money go to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which funds private school scholarships statewide.

“We are helping certain districts and I am saying an increase in the EITC would help my students even more,” she said Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Jeff Piccola of Dauphin County said providing vouchers will free up EITC money that would otherwise go to scholarships for students eligible for vouchers.

Other districts where low-income students could participate in a voucher program include schools in Reading, Allentown, and Chester.

The plan now heads to the House for consideration.

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