School voucher advocates again press for change in Pa.

    Public school advocates are urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to think big as they draft legislation to allow vouchers and reform charter schools.

    Tom Gentzel of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association would rather see a targeted effort to rehabilitate the state’s low-performing public schools.

    But, he said, the future clearly holds some type of school choice–there are already charters, and the push for vouchers legislation is on in the state senate and the Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.

    With that, Gentzel says, some questions need to be answered.

    “How should it be funded? What are the accountability measures? Assuming we’re going to have broad types of choice, how’re you going to regulate it?” Gentzel said. “Or is this the Wild West, where we just sort of send taxpayer dollars and hope for the best results?”

    Gentzel made his comments at a hearing before the state House Education Committee.

    At the same meeting, one advocate for school vouchers said it’s more important that lawmakers propose modest vouchers legislation that can pass, and then the policy can be expanded.

    Eugene Hickock, who served as state secretary of education under Gov. Tom Ridge and deputy secretary of education for President George W. Bush, said students attending the state’s 144 failing schools need out–and that’s where the argument for school vouchers and expanding charter schools should begin.

    “I can see the arguments against school choice because it’s dangerous, blah, blah, blah. I don’t agree with it–I can understand it,” Hickock said. “But man, you show me 150 schools that are really in trouble and I don’t see how you vote against that.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.