Monday, June 20, 2011

House Voucher Proposal In The Works

There’s new movement on the stalled Republican effort to create a school vouchers program. This time, it’s coming from the House, and not the Senate.

House Republican Jim Christiana is hoping to introduce a bill in the coming weeks. His measure would be much more limited than the Senate vouchers bill: it would provide funding for poor students in failing schools, instead of expanding to a statewide program.

Senate Bill 1, initially introduced by Republican Jeff Piccola and Democrat Anthony Williams, has been in a holding pattern for several months now. It likely won’t see a Senate vote until the fall. The measure creates a vouchers system that gradually grows over four years: in year one, poor students in failing schools are eligible. Year two expands vouchers to poor students in districts with failing schools, and in the third year, all low-income students in the commonwealth are eligible for the vouchers. The amended language makes middle class families eligible for vouchers in the fourth year of the program.

House Republican leaders have been resistant to the program. Last month, Speaker Sam Smith said he’d oppose the measure, in its current form, if it made it to his chamber.

Christiana’s proposal is more limited than the Piccola/Williams bill: it would apply to low-income students in under-performing schools. As his co-sponsorship memo explains, “This Act will create a school voucher that will commence with the 2012-13 school year and will be available to low-income children who (1) attended a low achieving school during the 2011-12 school year or will enroll in kindergarten in a low achieving for the 2012-13 school year; and (2) will reside within the attendance boundary of a low achieving school as of the first day of class. A low achieving school district will be defined as the lowest performing 10% of school districts.”

“I believe that the voucher component, in my opinion, is meant to rescue kids that are trapped in an under-performing district, that are low-income families, and the voucher should help them – and only them,” said Christiana. He pointed out his legislation would still help middle-class families, though, by expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, which provides tax breaks to private companies that spend money on educational scholarship programs. Christiana argued targeting vouchers to poorer families, “frees up more money to help the middle-income families with the EITC. And actually, probably all of the money from the EITC program and the expansion would go to middle-income families.”

Christiana is still a relatively green member of the House, but his bill will likely generate serious consideration: according to the Republican, its co-sponsors include House Majority Leader Mike Turzai.

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