Established in 2006, the Keystone State Education Coalition is a growing grass roots, non-partisan public education advocacy group of several hundred locally elected, volunteer school board members and administrators from school districts throughout Pennsylvania. Our mission is to evaluate, discuss and inform our boards, district constituents and legislators on legislative issues of common interest and to facilitate active engagement in public education advocacy.
Senate Education Committee Moves Voucher Bill With 8-2 Vote
This afternoon, March 1, the Senate Education Committee voted to approve SB 1, the taxpayer-funded tuition voucher bill introduced by Senators Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin), committee chairman, and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia). The bill was approved with a vote of 8-2, with Senators Jim Ferlo (D- Allegheny, Armstrong, Westmoreland) and Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery) opposing the bill.
The bill was moved out of the committee following a lengthy discussion on a number of amendments relating to issues of funding and costs, constitutional impediments, measures of academic success and mandated religious instruction. Discussion in favor of the bill was dominated by Senators Piccola and Williams. Concerns about the bill were raised by Senators Dinniman (minority chairman of the committee), Ferlo and Leach, who each offered amendments addressing various points. It was acknowledged by the minority chair that the cost of the voucher program under SB 1 would reach $1 billion by the third year. Nevertheless, only three amendments were adopted, none of which substantively change the provisions of SB 1.
The committee approved three amendments, offered by Sen. Piccola, that:
* Prohibit athletic recruiting of opportunity scholarship recipients by either school districts or participating nonpublic schools.
* Require participating nonpublic schools to be nonprofit entities that are tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and to make their written policies. regarding such matters as academics, extracurricular activities, admissions, tuition, religious studies and discipline available upon the request of parents seeking to enroll their children in the school.
* Make technical amendments to the bill to clarify the following: (1) eligibility of students to participate in years 1 and 2; (2) definition of "persistently lowest achieving school"; (3) reimbursement of transportation expenses; (4) manner of awarding vouchers; (5) funding of program by appropriations and moneys in the excess scholarship fund; (6) transitional funding for students currently attending public schools; (7) timing of EITC applications; and (8) division of EITC funds among scholarship organizations and educational improvement organizations.
Among the amendments that were rejected by the committee are those that would:
* Require voucher recipients attending a participating nonpublic school to take the PSSA or any successor tests implemented for public school students to comply with federal law. It also required the Department of Education to determine whether each participating nonpublic school is making adequately yearly progress and to annually publish aggregate data on academic performance for voucher students tested, except where the number of students tested is so low as to make their identities known.
* Require nonpublic schools to administer an assessment or a nationally normed standardized test in the same subject areas that are part of the PSSA state assessments in grades 3 - 8 and 11. The Department of Education must publish a listing of recognized nationally normed tests that may be used by a participating nonpublic school, and to report test scores.
* Require a participating nonpublic school to provide voucher recipients the ability to opt out of religious instruction or ceremonies.
* Clarify that nonpublic schools could not discriminate against students with disabilities regarding admissions.
* Require each school district to include with its annual property tax bill a notice stating the estimated costs of complying with SB 1.
* Remove language of SB 1, which deals with the reduction of student aid to a school district in the second year of the program due to a voucher recipient enrolling in a participating nonpublic school.
* Eliminate Year 3 of the voucher program and increases the total available credits to the EITC program in 2013-2014 fiscal year from $100 million to $150 million.
* Clarify that voucher funds received by a participating nonpublic school may be subject to audit in accordance with law.
* Require a participating to return the full amount of the voucher when the recipient is expelled by or requested or directed to withdrawal by the participating nonpublic school.
* Reduce the contribution deduction percentage for business firms making an EITC donation from 75% to 65% for an annual donation and 90% to 80% for a two year commitment.
The bill will now move to the full Senate for further consideration and, if passed, move to the House Education Committee.