A new school vouchers bill has gained the support of top Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.
The measure would phase in a voucher program. In its first year, it would provide grants of several thousand dollars for low-income students attending failing public schools.
The program would broaden to poor students already in private schools in its second year, and expand to include low-income students, regardless of their school district, in year three.
The money would come from the state’s basic education subsidy.
Sponsor Anthony Williams, a Democrat, rejects the argument his measure would siphon money away from public education efforts, saying he’s trying to help poor students in bad schools.
"We’ve taken away their opportunities and their options, and allowed them to sort of languish behind while the adults have an argument about how much money we spend, we do or we don’t spend enough, funding formulas, non-funding formulas, teacher’s contracts, bureaucrat’s contracts, administration contracts. And all this is going on while a train wreck is happening with a child’s life."
The more students from a district use the vouchers, the less direct state support it would get.
Williams says that doesn’t bother him.
"Why should we continue to spend more money without measurable or dramatic improvement? It is the only monopoly in this country that makes the argument for failure. That failure is acceptable. And that the only thing we need to do is keep funding it, and it will change something after 30 or 40 years of never having one iota of an impact."
Williams is co-sponsoring the bill with Republican Education Committee Chair Jeff Piccola, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says he’s supporting the measure.
Governor Ed Rendell, who will be out of office when this comes up for a vote, doesn’t like the new bill. He says charter schools already offer a choice to students in failing schools.