Voucher bill one step closer to passing

The tuition voucher bill has made it through one hurdle after the Senate Education Committee today voted to move it to the full Senate for a vote.

The committee endorsed the bill by a vote of 8-2 after adopting an amendment that would prohibit the recruitment of students for athletic reasons.

Senate Bill 1 would provide the tuition vouchers to low-income parents in school districts that are persistently failing in statewide tests.

Proponents of the bill laud it for widening school options for families. Opponents criticized its failure to consider costs and accountability.

AFT President Ted Kirsch said the bill would cost Pennsylvania taxpayers $1 billion a year by the third year of implementation. Yet the private and religious schools accepting the public money would not have to meet state academic standards; administer standardized tests; report test scores or enrollment, attendance and graduation rates to taxpayers, as public schools are required to do.

PFT President Jerry Jordan echoed similar sentiments in a statement he released after the vote.

"Under Senate Bill 1, schools accepting vouchers are exempt from oversight," he said. "They don’t have to reveal how they spend their massive tax windfall.  They won’t be required to admit all students or demonstrate that they are improving the quality of education for kids."

"Nor would they have to submit audits, open their books or be subject to state regulators investigating waste, fraud, excess compensation and reckless spending."

District officials have said that with the adoption of the bill, it would send schoos into a further financial tailspin. It could cost the city's public schools $40 million in state funding next year, assuming 10 percent of eligible students use them.

Meanwhile, dozens of people traveled to Harrisburg today to urge state legislators to continue funding Philadelphia’s public schools. Coalition members of Our Students, Our Philly, Our Future, a grassroots group, visited the offices of more than 30 state legislators, including State Representative Michael McGeehan, whose aides stated that he wasn't available to meet in person.

The coalition - comprising of parents, educators, activists, business and religious leaders - was formed recently in an attempt to shame state lawmakers into rethinking funding for public education.

District officials say they could face a $400 million shortfall by the end of next year.