The measure would divert state education money to private school vouchers for low-income students in failing school districts.
Republican sponsor Jeff Piccola has aggressively challenged opponents of the measure, at times comparing them to supporters of communism. Democrat Anthony Williams co-authored the bill and defended the rhetoric he’s used comparing public education to Jim Crow-style segregation.
"Those who chastise me by injecting the civil rights comments that I do on occasion: separate but unequal is what we have. And it’s not simply urban schools. Rural schools. This country is in crisis, when it comes to delivery of education. or segregation."
Early in the hearing, Democrat Daylin Leach pushed back, saying he and others have legitimate concerns about the voucher system.
"That we’re creating a huge new entitlement. A government entitlement in a time of recession. We’re taking money from the poorest schools, and leaving those still there with even fewer resources to try and make their education a little better."
Governor Corbett’s nominee for Education Secretary, Ronald Tomalis, testified in favor of a vouchers program, though he stayed away from wading into the specifics of Piccola’s measure.
The legislation, labeled Senate Bill 1, would gradually expand the voucher program over a three-year period.