Two key portions of Governor Tom Corbett’s education platform made progress in the Pennsylvania General Assembly last week. But a third initiative – a school vouchers bill -- may be stalled until the fall, or later.
The Senate passed a bill giving school districts the right to lay teachers off for economic reasons, and a House committee approved a measure requiring voter referendums for property tax increases above the rate of inflation. Corbett called for the referendum bill in his budget address, and wants to give schools more flexibility to cut costs.
But a high-profile school vouchers bill continues to stall in the Senate, and won’t be called to a vote until House leaders begin to actively negotiate its details, according to Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. “We believe that we could accomplish it before the post-budget break,” he said, “but that would require a different approach by the House than we’ve seen so far.” Senate leaders initially planned for an April vote on the vouchers bill, but they pulled it from the table after the Corbett Administration failed to wholeheartedly endorse its language. A modified measure, delaying the program until 2012 and capping its costs, has been introduced, but no vote is scheduled.
House Republicans are leery of the vouchers bill. Instead of negotiating on the vouchers legislation, they passed a measure expanding a tax credit meant to spur private scholarship donations. Senate Education Committee Chair Jeff Piccola has said the Educational Improvement Tax Credit bill is “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber. Pileggi effectively said the same thing, but in more muted terms. “We’re committed to addressing both issues [the EITC expansion and vouchers] in one bill at the same time,” he said. “It serves no one’s purposes to divide the issues, and only deal with vouchers or only deal with the educational improvement tax credit expansion.”