Will House support Senate’s OK of school vouchers?

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives does not appear eager to consider a bill that passed the Senate last week that would create a school voucher program in the state.

Senate Bill 1 passed 27–22.

In the first year, the bill would extend tuition vouchers to low-income families with children in the bottom 5 percent of poor-performing public schools. The annual household income limit would be $29,000.

The following local schools fit into that category: Fels and Frankford high schools; Warren Harding Middle School; and Allen M. Stearne, Laura H. Carnell, Benjamin Franklin, Henry R. Edmunds and Creighton elementary schools.

In the second year, vouchers would be offered to low-income students already attending private schools.

In addition, the bill would streamline the process to open charter and cyber schools.

Also, it would increase the annual cap on the Educational Improvement Tax Credit from $75 million to $100 million. The cap would rise to $125 million in three years. The EITC gives tax breaks to businesses that make contributions to scholarship organizations.

Gov. Tom Corbett supports the bill, which is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Piccola of Dauphin County and Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia.

Sens. Tina Tartaglione (D-2nd dist.), Shirley Kitchen (D-3rd dist.) and Mike Stack (D-5th dist.) — who represent portions of the Northeast — voted against the measure.

Stack said he supported the EITC funding and charter school provisions, but didn’t vote for the overall bill because of recent cuts to public education.

“We should be investing in these schools, not taking money away from them,” he said. “Senate Bill 1 will only continue to take away funding from public schools, funding that our public schools need to provide children with a quality education.”

Stack claimed that his constituents overwhelmingly opposed the bill.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest school employee union, opposes the bill, even the provision increasing funding for the popular EITC.

Williams dismissed the criticism from opponents who cited increased funding as the key to a successful public education system.

“I cannot, in good conscience, continue to go along with the status quo of approving education funding and praying that things change,” he said. “We’ve waited too long and talked for too long about change. Change must be immediate, and that change began today.” ••