Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PSBA: October 26, 2011 PA Senate Passes Voucher Bill SB1 Without Further Amendment

From PSBA: Senate Passes Voucher Bill Without Further Amendment
This evening (Oct. 26) the Senate as expected passed SB 1, legislation that creates a program for taxpayer funded tuition vouchers and expansion of charter schools and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.  Approval of the bill was not a runaway vote, as the measure was adopted with a vote of 27-22 following about four hours of debate on the Senate floor.  The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.
Roll Call Vote on SB1:
Voting in favor of SB 1:
Alloway (R), Argall (R), Browne (R), Brubaker (R), Corman (R), Dinniman (D), Earll (R), Eichelberger (R), Erickson (R), Folmer (R), McIlhinney (R), Mensch (R), Orie (R), Piccola (R), Pileggi (R), Rafferty (R), Robbins (R), Scarnati (R),Smucker (R), Tomlinson (R), Ward (R), Washington (D), Waugh (R), White, D (R), White, M (R), Williams (D), Yaw (R)
Voting in opposition to SB 1:
Baker (R), Blake (D), Boscola (D), Brewster (D), Costa (D), Farnese (D), Ferlo (D), Fontana (D), Gordner (R), Greenleaf (R), Hughes (D), Kasunic (D), Kitchen (D), Leach (D), Schwank (D), Solobay (D), Stack (D), Tartaglione (D), Vance (R), Vogel (R), Wozniak (D), Yudichak (D)
Not voting: Pippy (R)
A handful of amendments were offered on the Senate floor, but none were adopted. Sen. Jeff Piccola, who is the original sponsor of SB 1 and the champion for voucher proponents, lead the arguments against all of the amendments. Here is a summary of SB 1 released by the Senate Education Committee earlier this week.
What happened earlier:
The bill was fast tracked, as the Senate Education Committee announced last Friday (Oct. 21) that it would consider a comprehensive amendment to SB 1 early the following week. Yesterday the bill was reported out of the Senate Education Committee and quickly moved to the Senate floor.
New cost estimates:
A new fiscal note attached to SB 1 prepared by Senate Republicans estimates that the cost of the “scaled down” voucher plan at $42.6 million in 2012-13 for the first year, and a jump to $81.4 million in 2013-14. The Senate Democrats estimate the cost of vouchers under SB 1 at $73 million in 2012-13 and $133 million in 2013-14.
Amendments defeated:
Sen. Vincent Hughes offered an amendment to authorize the creation of “Hope Academies” to assist struggling schools. Defeated 20-29.  Hughes offered another similar amendment replacing the voucher program with Hope Academies and using EITC dollars. Defeated 17-32; later reconsidered and again defeated 16-33.
Sen. Judith Schwank offered an amendment to limit the financial loss to underperforming school districts that lose students due to vouchers if those districts are complying with their school improvement plan. Defeated 19-30.
Sen. James Ferlo offered two amendments; one that removed the voucher portion out of SB 1 was defeated 19-30. Another amendment would have increased funding for EITC program. Defeated 21-28.
Sen. Daylin Leach offered amendment prohibiting discrimination of enrollment based on sexual orientation, as well as aptitude or disability. Defeated 19-30.
The floor debate:
Most of the discussion focused on vouchers, with speakers on both sides of the issue speaking fervently during the four hour debate. Sen. Piccola also used time on the floor to praise charter schools and to pass the entire bill to “set students free.”  Sen. Andrew Dinniman spoke more than once about the value of parochial schools as superior to public schools and said that the courts will decide the issue of religion in the schools and constitutionality. He also insisted that vouchers under SB 1 are not a statewide change, but instead is a “limited, pilot project affecting just a few school districts.”  Sen. Lloyd Smucker spoke in favor of competition in education and said it is good policy to give kids “a fresh reason” to want to go to school.
Sen. Jay Costa countered that public schools are not failing and that Pennsylvania schools have shown impressive improvement and progress. Sen. Christine Tartaglione spoke against vouchers, saying that they are a retreat from, not a reform of, education. Sen. Ferlo also spoke against “the experiment of vouchers” under SB 1, saying it would serve to hurt the school districts he represents, particularly in the face of current budget cuts.  He also spoke on constitutional issues, saying that public tax dollars should not go to fund education in religious schools. Sen. Leach agreed and emphasized that SB 1 does not provide true parental choice because private schools can choose who they enroll. He also pointed out that the low performing schools are in high poverty areas and that when the state provided additional resources to schools, progress was made and PSSA scores rose. Also speaking against SB 1 were Senators James Brewster and John Wozniak.
What’s next:
If your senator voted “No” on SB 1, please be sure to thank him/her. If your senator voted “Yes” on SB 1, politely let him/her know that you are aware of the vote and are not appreciative.
SB 1 will now move to the House of Representatives, where its future is uncertain. It is likely to be referred to the Education Committee but it is possible it may be referred elsewhere.

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