School choice is not a new issue in PA, and it was no surprise when Governor Corbett included school vouchers in his education reform agenda. In fact, several protesters gathered in York in anticipation of what they were about to hear. “65% of Pennsylvanians do not support using public money to pay private school tuition and only 11% of Pennsylvanians strongly support a voucher program,” says Cumberland County parent Susan Spicka. “If the majority of Pennsylvanians do not support vouchers, I don’t know why he does.” Spicka was citing a recent poll released by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
The Corbett plan calls for opportunity scholarships to be made available to low-income students in the worst performing 5% of schools. The Opportunity Scholarship Program would allow eligible students to use state tax dollars to help pay tuition at the public or private school of their choice. “What moves to the new school is the state subsidy, the old school still keeps its taxes in their school district,” Corbett says. Students whose families earn 130% of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the full scholarship. “To give that to you in dollars and cents,” Corbett says, “That’s a family of four earning $29,000.” Students whose families earn 185% of the federal poverty level would be eligible for 75% of the scholarships.
Opponents say vouchers don’t work. “Vouchers, as proposed, would still leave a large number of students in those underperforming buildings,” says PSBA Director of Research Services, David Davare, who released a new research paper touting alternatives to raise student achievement in underperforming schools.
“The issue is not that vouchers don’t work, the issue is the current system doesn’t work,” says Otto Banks, executive director of the REACH Alliance & Foundation, who says many students are trapped in failing schools simply because of their ZIP code. “Vouchers are simply a means to an end,” Banks tells Radio PA. “It gives a child an opportunity, or access to a quality education.” REACH strongly supports the governors’ education reform agenda.