Pattye Benson

Community Matters

school voucher

Proposed School Voucher Bill (SB 1) Unstalled and Inching Forward

Thank you to Larry Feinberg, for the following update on the proposed school voucher legislation. Sounds like SB 1 is ‘unstalled’ and is moving forward again.

HI Pattye –

Here’s the latest update on the voucher bill SB1:

Allentown Morning Call Capitol Ideas Blog
John Micek, April 27, 5:49 p.m.

Senate Repubs, Corbett Reach Agreement On Voucher Bill

Senate Republicans And Gov. Tom Corbett have apparently resolved their differences over a stalled school vouchers bill, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said this afternoon. Because we have friends in all the wrong places, here’s the amendatory language that’s under consideration (this part is strictly for the Trainspotters amongst you):

· Effective date of Implementation of Opportunity Scholarships and EITC increase/changes delayed until July 1, 2012.
· New timeline as a result:
· 2012-2013 – Year One – Low-income children in failing schools eligible for Opportunity
· Scholarships;
· 2013-2014 – Year Two – Low-income children in attendance boundaries of failing schools;
· 2014-2015 – Year Three – All low-income children statewide.
· As a result, there will be no significant budgetary costs in the upcoming fiscal year.
· Year Three Opportunity Scholarship recipients will be capped at 3% of the previous year’s Basic Education Funding (BEF) appropriation – projected at approximately $163 million in 2014-2015.
· PDE will administer the program.
· The Education Opportunity Board will remain in place in an advisory capacity and to approve the guidelines issued by PDE.
· The Governor will appoint the initial three members of the Education Opportunity Board with successor appointments confirmed by the Senate (modeled after the Philadelphia School Reform Commission).
· PDE’s definition of “LOW-ACHIEVING SCHOOLS” will be utilized with a separate ranking of elementary and secondary schools focusing on the bottom 5% of combined math and reading scores on most recent PSSA.
· In Year Four (2015-2016):
· Entire amount in the Excess Fund will start funding the Public School Choice Demonstration Grants for school districts to establish their own tuition grant programs (Public to Public) and for funding the Middle-Income Scholarship Program;
· Middle-Income Scholarship Program eligibility will increase to 350% of Federal Poverty ($78,225 for a family of four).

Read more:

Budget Ax Falls in Philadelphia; Pink Slips Could Go to 3,820 School District Employees

Late Wednesday, the Philadelphia School District announced that 16% of the district’s 24,000 employees . . . or 3,820 positions might be eliminated. The district has a shortfall of $629 million and estimates they will need to severely reduce the work force to meet the deficit. A budget for the district must be approved by the end of May and the clock is ticking.

If Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget is passed, Philadelphia School District stands to lose $292 million in state funding – representing close to a 10% reduction in the District’s overall funding. As a result, pink slips could go to hundreds of aides, custodians and central office staff, plus about 12 percent of the teachers. The school district will be forced to cut the workforce by 3,820, which includes 400 members of Central Office staff, 1,260 teachers, 650 aides, 430 custodians, 180 counselors and 51 nurses. The district also plans to increase class sizes and curb spending on transportation, special education, summer school, arts, music and sports.

Some are forecasting that teacher cuts will be on the newer and probably younger teachers. On hearing the District announcement of massive teacher cuts, a friend forwarded me an email from a young Philly teacher. Sad words from a dedicated teacher:

This whole thing is so terribly sad. I am a new teacher in fear of being laid off. In view of the circumstances, it may be likely that I will not ever be called back for my job.

Like many other teachers, I put my heart and soul into my job. No expense was ever too great for my students. I feel like I did not even get a chance to prove myself in becoming an even better teacher. My heart goes out to all teachers in fear of losing their jobs. I wish they would let us know so that we can try to make sense out of this and try to cope with this.

I feel like my heart has been ripped out, and I have been robbed of true happiness in doing what I love. I wish everyone the best—including the new teachers who probably will be the first to go.

In addition to the major reduction in the workforce, the District is looking for $75 million in budget help to come from teacher union concessions. As to be expected, union membership feels that they have given enough . . . collectively, the teacher’s are saying, “they do feel the pain!”

We learned this week from Harrisburg that the state school voucher program is inching forward again and discussions are continuing on proposed legislation that permits furloughing of teachers for ‘economic reasons’.. The teacher pension crisis continues to underscore the severity of the current economic situation. In the morning news, it is reported that New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability stands at $53.8 billion, the fourth highest in the country.

Does this news from Philadelphia School District have any significance for local school districts?

School Voucher (Senate Bill 1) Vote on Bill Delayed . . . What Does this Mean?

The proposed legislation to create a school voucher program for Pennsylvania (Senate Bill 1) was approved by the Senate Appropriation Committee on Monday, April 11 with a vote of 15-11 but a scheduled Tuesday, April 12 vote on the bill was delayed until April 26 at the earliest . . . what does this mean for the future of SB 1? Sometimes, a delay can mean that a bill is in trouble, is that the case here?

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Gov. Corbett is not letting go of the proposed school voucher plan, or at least not easily. Apparently, in an unusual move (and rarely done by governors), Corbett appeared before the closed-door caucus of the Senate GOP to argue in favor of the school choice legislation. I guess it was thought that by bringing in the ‘big guns’ the bill could be pushed through the Senate but it appears that idea didn’t work as planned.

SB 1 would allow students (based on family income eligibility) to attend private or parochial schools of their choice with state-paid vouchers. The projected costs associated with the implementation of a school voucher program are estimated by Senate Republicans to be at least $328 million by 2013. However, there is pushback on that number by the Democrats, who estimate the annual costs are actually higher, their estimate is $385 million by 2013.

The stated reason for delaying the Senate vote to April 26 is that one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), is ill. However, that does not make sense because Williams could vote by proxy from his home. My guess is that even with Corbett’s encouragement (arm-twisting?) it was determined that there were not enough votes for the SB 1 to pass the Senate on April 12 and the administration is hoping the delay to April 26 will provide persuasion opportunities.

Guess we will have to wait until April 26 and see if there is a Senate vote on SB 1. If the 26th comes and goes, it would appear that the proposed school choice bill is dead in the water. On the other hand, is it possible that the school voucher bill could fail in the Senate and be reincarnated in the House?

The outcome of SB 1 could prove interesting for Corbett, since this is the first major legislation that he has pushed since taking office. Facing pressure in regards to his proposed funding cuts to public education, maybe the Governor will decide against further pushing of the school choice legislation.

Tredyffrin Resident Christine Johnson Says NO to SB 1 . . . Making your Voice Count!

There has been much discussed about the proposed school voucher bill, SB 1. But Tredyffrin resident Christine Johnson is doing more than just talking . . . she’s taking her voice and saying NO to SB 1. Christine adopted her ‘Resolution Opposing Senate Bill 1’ (below) and sent it to Senator Andy Dinniman and State Rep Warren Kampf. According to Christine, ” . . . they need our support in order to say ‘NO’ . . . “

Creating change starts with one person –I am proud of Christine and applaud her effort to show all that your voice can count! If you are interested in following Christine’s example, here are email addresses:

State Rep Warren Kampf:
State Sen Andy Dinniman:


By Christine E. Johnson
986 Mt. Pleasant Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087

WHEREAS, school districts in the Commonwealth have continued to make steady gains in academic achievement and create innovative and effective
programs and curricula for all public school students and Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to have increased academic achievement in every subject, at all tested grade levels and for all ethnic, racial and
economic subgroups of students from 2002 through 2008; and

WHEREAS, the implementation of a tuition voucher program, over-expansion of any existing tax credit program or incentivizing a student’s transfer out of the public education system in any way takes financial resources away from traditional public schools and diminishes the great strides that have been made in those schools and increases the burden on property taxpayers and their resident school districts working toward greater academic successes; and

WHEREAS, unlike nonpublic and private schools, public school districts in the Commonwealth accept and educate children regardless of race,
ethnicity, gender, religion or academic talents, as opposed to those institutions that are able to reject applicants based on low academic performance, discipline issues or any number of other factors; and

WHEREAS, unlike nonpublic and private schools, public schools in the Commonwealth are held to strict accountability standards in an effort to
measure student achievement and academic progress, unlike private and parochial schools which are not required to give state assessments or
publish student achievement data; and

WHEREAS, there is no consistent evidence to demonstrate that students who utilize vouchers make any better academic progress in nonpublic or private schools than they did prior to transferring; and

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson opposes Senate Bill 1 and any other legislation or any effort by the General Assembly to implement a tuition voucher program in the Commonwealth or any other program that would have an effect similar to that of a tuition voucher program, and encourages its elected officials to oppose the same.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson directs her legislators to take immediate action about the need to oppose Senate Bill 1 and the negative consequences on the school district and the public education system at large and to provide a copy of this resolution to them.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Christine E. Johnson will encourage others, including parents, students and district taxpayers, to contact the
Pennsylvania General Assembly to convey the importance of supporting public education in the Commonwealth.

Adopted this 31st day of March 2011.


Christine E. Johnson

Will the Proposed SB1 School Voucher Program Further Erode Failing-School Communities?

The Following op-ed article by Larry Feinberg appeared in Monday’s issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lawrence A. Feinberg is a school board member in Haverford Township, the chairman of the Delaware County School Boards Legislative Council, and a co-chairman of the Keystone State Education Coalition.

In the past, Larry has contributed comments to Community Matters. As we know (and as Larry reminds us), in its present state, the SB1 school voucher bill does not require accountability from private or parochial schools. Our understanding is that Sen. Andy Dinniman is addressing that aspect of the bill and suggests that accountability needs to be included as an amendment. As I have previously stated, I am unclear how student testing and accountability will be possible in a private school setting.

In his opinion article, Larry speaks of the failing-school community . . .

“S.B. 1 would dismantle neighborhood schools by siphoning off motivated students and parents, leaving behind a truly concentrated population of failing students, including those who are less motivated, “hard to educate,” disabled, troubled, and able to speak little English. S.B. 1 offers absolutely nothing to help those students or improve their schools.”

Larry makes an important, and often over-looked point, that may be inherent in the proposed school voucher program. . . the erosion or the ‘dismantling’ of a failing-school community when families and students opt out of the local public school. Isn’t there a real possibility that a school voucher program could cause further deterioration in a failing-school community, even beyond the walls of the local public school?

PA’s Unaccountable School Voucher Bill
By Lawrence A. Feinberg
In support of Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 1, which would provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools, voucher evangelists have been citing a report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools.” However, a review of the report by the National Education Policy Center finds no credible evidence that vouchers have improved student achievement.

Located at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Education Policy Center aims to provide high-quality information on education policy. Its review found that the “Win-Win” report, “based on a review of 17 studies, selectively reads the evidence in some of those studies, the majority of which were produced by voucher advocacy organizations.

“Moreover, the report can’t decide whether or not to acknowledge the impact of factors other than vouchers on public schools. It attempts to show that public school gains were caused by the presence of vouchers alone, but then argues that the lack of overall gains for districts with vouchers should be ignored because too many other factors are at play.” The review goes on to note that “existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question.”

Voucher proponents tout the supposed benefits of competition, but the playing field is not even close to level. The state’s public schools operate under the bureaucratic weight of the Pennsylvania School Code’s thousand pages (also created by the legislature) and another thousand pages of No Child Left Behind requirements. They face a virtual army of special-education attorneys with another thousand pages of laws. They are subject to right-to-know and sunshine laws. And they must bear the costs of complying with all of them.

Religious and other private schools are relatively unaffected by any of this red tape, rendering the notion of fair competition ludicrous.

Public schools are required to accept and expected to educate every student who shows up, regardless of economic status, English proficiency, disabilities, or behavioral problems. It’s the law.

Here’s where “choice” really comes in: Private schools can choose to accept or reject any prospective student, and they can choose which students they retain or expel.

S.B. 1 demands accountability, but only from traditional public schools. While voucher proponents hold the accountability banner high, accusing high-poverty public schools of failing, there is no accountability whatsoever imposed under this bill’s voucher scheme. It would allow private schools to receive tax dollars without being accountable for students’ academic performance, requiring no standardized tests and making no scores available to the public.

Nor does the bill impose any accountability for how private schools spend tax dollars. There would be no transparency, public budgets, or right to know.

Meanwhile, S.B. 1 would dismantle neighborhood schools by siphoning off motivated students and parents, leaving behind a truly concentrated population of failing students, including those who are less motivated, “hard to educate,” disabled, troubled, and able to speak little English. S.B. 1 offers absolutely nothing to help those students or improve their schools.

Ultimately, S.B. 1 and its so-called opportunity scholarships would provide our state legislators with an opportunity to wash their hands of their responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education for all.

School Voucher Discussion Continues in Harrisburg, Sen. Dinniman Offers Possible Solutions to SB1 Issues

Yesterday in Harrisburg, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing to discuss the Opportunity Scholarship and Education Improvement Tax Credit Act (SB1), the proposed school voucher legislation. We understand that in the first year, SB1 would provide approximately $9,000 in voucher dollars to low-income students enrolled in the 144 worst performing schools in the state. The second year of the proposed legislation would provide school voucher dollars to all low-income students who live within the boundaries of those 144 schools. If I understand correctly, the average cost to educate a student in Pennsylvania is more than $16,000 and a school voucher student would bring in $9,000. The school district would retain the difference, approximately $7,000. In the end, more money per student would remain in the school.

The Senate hearing included some proposed changes to SB1, specifically how the school voucher program would work in the third year. As currently written the proposed legislation would expand the statewide school voucher program to include all students in the third year. Although a school choice supporter, Sen. Andy Dinniman presented a pair of amendments to address some of the concerns of the proposed school voucher legislation. One of his SB1 amendments addresses the cost of the proposed school voucher program (specifically in the third year) and funding issues. Dinniman’s other amendment responds to teacher union and school board concerns in regards to accountability issues of the proposed voucher program.

As a way to handle the costs of expanding the school voucher program to all students in the third year, Dinniman proposes using the state’s existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The current EITC program is funded by contributions made by businesses and is directed toward income-eligible students to help them to attend private or parochial schools. For their contributions, businesses receive a 70 percent tax credit (although Dinniman suggests lowering the tax credit to 65 percent).

This suggestion by Dinniman would reduce the high cost of extending the school voucher program statewide as the SB1 legislation currently suggests. There are projections that the implementation of the third year program in its current form, could range from $500M to $1B, depending on the number of students enrolled in the program. Since its implementation in 2001, the EITC program has benefited 244,000 students. Dinniman’s school voucher program would expand the EITC program, doubling the business contributions from $75M to $150M to help with school voucher funding.

Much discussion surrounding the SB1 legislation is concern over accountability in private and parochial schools. Dinniman’s suggestion to handle these concerns would be to mandate that students who leave the public school program must participate in the state’s standardized testing system. In theory I understand that the Senator is trying to address the educational standard concern that some may have over private schools but I am not sure how this proposed ‘standardized testing’ would work.

Use this as an example – Suppose a student decides to use the school voucher program, leaves the public school system and is enrolled in a private school. The private school has its own teaching methods and programming which may (or may not) align itself yearly to the curriculum of the state’s public school system. Perhaps, the private school teaches algebra in 7th grade and geometry in 8th grade whereas the public school reverses the order and teaches geometry in 7th grade and algebra in 8th grade. The seventh grade school voucher student is given the standardized math test, which includes geometry. However, this student is attending a private school that does not include geometry in the curriculum until 8th grade. As a result, the private school student (using the school voucher program) does poorly on the test. Obviously, this is a simplistic example of what could be a possible problem with mandating standardized testing in the private school arena.

Another possible problem but probably more easily addressed — the actual scheduling of the standardized testing. The school voucher student in the private school would have to ‘sit’ for the standardized testing and the scheduling of the testing may not be amenable to the private school schedule. It is my understanding that Sen. Dinniman’s two amendments are in the drafting stage, so I am confident that the accountability issues will be thoroughly vetted and a solution reached.

We know that the state’s teachers unions are generally opposed to the SB1 legislation as currently written. Michael Cross, VP of Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) reports that the union is open to further discussion if the legislation is amended. They would look at each of the amendments and see if it adequately meets the needs of the students. Although unwilling to comment specifically on Dinniman’s proposed amendment changes, Cross did remark that he would not support an amendment that takes funding from any of the state’s current education subsidies. Remember, Dinniman’s proposal to address SB1 funding concerns, doubles the EITC contribution.

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