Two sides to every coin . . . supporters call school vouchers a right; a matter of choice. Opponents believe that the proposed voucher program is unconstitutional and will further erode the state’s lowest-performing schools.
The teacher union opposition to school vouchers became clearer this week when representatives from the two major unions brought their case to the state’s House Education Committee. Representatives from Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) told the Education Committee that the teacher unions were focusing on two major priorities for 2011 – budgetary assistance and blocking the proposed school voucher legislation.
Pennsylvania is loosing federal stimulus money, which will create a shortfall of $1 billion in education funding. According to Gov. Corbett, the state is facing a $4 billion deficit in next year’s budget so education-spending cuts are expected. If you recall, Corbett and Democratic state senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia (one of school voucher bill SB1 originators) supported school vouchers in their individual campaigns last year. At this point, we do not know how steep the cuts in education spending will be and no one may know for sure until Corbett unveils his preliminary budget, which is expected to be delivered sometime in March.
Although the school voucher bill will have several hearings in the state House during the next couple of months, Corbett’s budget address in March may see the proposed legislation moving forward. As the proposed SB1 now stands, it would direct over $50 million to the neediest families in the lowest-performing schools in the state. The estimated cost of the program is less than 1% of the current education subsidy.
Besides the school voucher program, the other major education issue that must be addressed by the state is the funding of the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS). PSERS as currently designed is not sustainable and threatens to break the budget of school districts across the state. Although the State Legislature recognized the significance of the PSERS funding problem last year, a long-term solution is needed.
Anticipating a major battle ahead over the proposed school voucher legislation, the PSEA union, which represents 190,000+ teachers in Pennsylvania, has announced an 11% increase in dues for its members.