The controversial bill to provide taxpayer-financed tuition vouchers to students in low-performing schools cleared its first legislative hurdle today.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) and Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Phila.), was approved by the Senate Education Committee in a 9-2 vote and sent to the full Senate, which could consider the it as early as Wednesday.
Gov. Corbett has said he supports a voucher proposal but he said today talks were still underway to reach agreement on the bill language. The bill also must pass the full House.
The bill would create of a so-called "opportunity scholarship" program for low-income families in rougly 140 low-performing schools - most of them in Philadelphia - expand the Commonwealth’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, and the reform Pennsylvania’s current charter school law.
“Our Committee’s action today demonstrates bipartisan leadership and commitment to ensuring that every student despite their zip code is afforded a quality education in Pennsylvania,” said Piccola. “The time has come for adoption of a rescue plan for those students who have been failed by the current system.”
Under the bill, vouchers would be available beginning in 2012 for students in schools ranked in the bottom five percent of schools in Pennsylvania.
In year two, vouchers would be available for all students residing in attendance boundaries of schools in the bottom five percent. The amendment also includes a provision that would expand the program in year seven beyond the bottom five percent to include those schools that are 50 percent proficient or less in reading or math scores.
The bill also would streamline the process by which charter schools are created by establishing a standard application for all applicants to use; lengthening the initial term and renewal term for a charter school; clarifying the illegality of enrollment caps for charters; and providing for direct pay. The bill addresses accountability, ethics and governance of charter school boards and requires greater disclosure of information from charter school foundations.
It also creates a statewide Charter School Advisory Committee charged with reviewing and making recommendations to the legislature regarding issues involving charter and cyber charter funding.
The bill also calls for an expansion to the EITC program - which allows businesses that support scholarships for low income students to receive tax credits - from $75 million to $100 million in the first year and $125 in year three.
Click for a list of low-performing schools in the Philly area (.doc)
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