Tight timetable to pass flurry of choice bills in Pennsylvania

Come Thursday, the deadline for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to approve the state’s budget will pass. But despite the tight timetable, Gov. Tom Corbett told reporters yesterday that the state is in “as good a position” as any to get a school voucher bill approved by that date. Others, including the voice of the capital’s main newspaper, which supported SB 1, are urging caution and careful deliberation before deciding on that bill or any of a flurry of measures that have surfaced in recent days that would publicly fund private school options.  

SB 1 would provide a voucher first to students who attend the state’s most persistently low-achieving schools before expanding to all low-income students statewide. But two other measures have been introduced. One bill, HB 1708 from state Rep. Jim Christiana, would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit to families earning as much as $60,000 as well as provide vouchers to low-income kids who attend the lowest-performing 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s schools. Rep. Tom Quigley also filed a bill, HB 1330, that would expand the cap on the EITC program to $100 million in 2011-12 and to $200 million thereafter.

Additionally, state Rep. Curt Shroder plans to introduce two school choice bills which, unlike SB 1, do not establish income limits for eligibility, but would award vouchers to students who live in the attendance boundary of a persistently low-achieving school, something Shroder calls the Failing Schools Student Rescue Act. Another, which he calls the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act, would offer a $5,000 scholarship to all students in the commonwealth.

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BY Amy Graham

Amy Graham is a policy analyst who recently joined Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income children. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Amy previously worked as a legislative analyst for the Florida Senate and as an education policy analyst focused on school choice programs for the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education. She also is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University.