A revamped version of SB 1 attempts to address three of the four tenets of the governor’s education reform agenda. Throughout hours of Senate debate, Wednesday, there appeared to be broad support for the expansion of Educational Improvement Tax Credits and updates to the state’s charter school law. However, a school vouchers program proved controversial.
“Over 90% of the kids are still going to be at the old school,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery). “They are just going to have less resources to try to eke out an education.”
The amended voucher program in SB 1 would make the per-student state education subsidy available to low-income students, in the worst-performing 5% of schools, to help them attend the public or private school of their choice. Students whose families earn up to 130% of the federal poverty guidelines would receive a full voucher, while students whose families earn up to 185% of the federal poverty guidelines would be eligible for three-quarters of the per-student state subsidy. The impacted schools are located primarily in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Allentown, Pittsburgh and Reading.
“If this bill was a bill that would require statewide vouchers, I would vote against it,” said Democratic Education Chairman Andy Dinniman (D-Chester). “But this bill is a very limited bill that is aimed to help students in 143 buildings in this commonwealth, out of thousands of school buildings in this commonwealth.”
The bill ultimately passed 27 to 22,and now heads to the House. Governor Tom Corbett has not yet endorsed SB 1, but says he has been working with lawmakers behind the scenes.