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School voucher program passes out of committee

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
Reading School District's Administration Building

 Jeremy Long / WITF

Reading School District's Administration Building

Last year’s budget process got bogged down by the inclusion of a school voucher program that many Democrats said would take money away from public schools.

Those vouchers are now back on the menu.

The Senate Education Committee voted largely along party lines Tuesday to send the “Lifeline Scholarship Program” to the Senate floor. It would allow families of children attending a public school to be eligible to receive a scholarship of up to $10,000 for standard education and $15,000 for special education to attend a private school.

Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, is the prime sponsor of the bill. She said the program would give parents more rights.

“Parents should have the ability to determine the best educational opportunity for their child, not a ZIP Code,” she said. “The legislation empowers parents to find that opportunity that best suits their child’s needs.”

Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia was the only Democrat voting to move the bill to the floor.

He acknowledged the problems public schools face with funding – a problem so severe the Commonwealth Court ruled it to be unconstitutional — but said more needs to be done for children.

“There’s no doubt that funding has been a historical issue, but it’s also clear that not just funding will save or preserve the outcome for these children,” he said.

In his budget proposal, Gov. Josh Shapiro called for a $1.1 billion investment into public education.

Democratic Senate Education Chair Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County said she feels guided by the state Constitution to fix the public education funding problem.

“I want to say clearly that we cannot trade away our constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education, period,” she said.

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Aaron Chapin opposes the use of taxpayer dollars for private schools.

“We shouldn’t even think about sending taxpayer money to private and religious schools when our focus should be on fixing Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional public school funding system,” Chapin said in a statement.

Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Stephen Bloom was delighted at the passage.

“Time and again, Senate Republicans have championed the belief that all children deserve access to a quality education, regardless of their income or ZIP Code,” he said in a statement. “Today is no different.”

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