The Associated Press (AP) reports in Education Week that Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration officially endorsed the use of taxpayers’ money to enable low-income students in failing public schools to transfer to private schools. State Education Secretary-nominee Ronald Tomalis, speaking at a Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee hearing, said targeting school vouchers at low-income youngsters in the worst-performing public schools would intensify competition within the state’s educational system to produce “exponential benefits” for all students.
Tomalis stopped short of endorsing a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, which in the third year would allow any low-income public-school student to use the per-pupil subsidy the state government sends to his or her school district to attend a different private, public or religious school. Tomalis said the bill “starts the conversation” about how to expand choices for students. Sen. Anthony Williams, who is a co-sponsor of Piccola’s bill, said the issue is about civil rights. “Separate but unequal is what we have,” he said.
Opponents said the bill could cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion a year once fully implemented. It also would undermine public education by draining money from local districts; would fail to hold the non-public schools accountable for students’ academic progress or expenditures of the voucher money; and would allow the schools to decide which students should be accepted, they said. “Public schools must enroll everyone who shows up at the door and provide them with the best education possible. Nonpublic schools can accept whom they wish and reject those who, for whatever reason, do not fit in their schools,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
Piccola said the bill’s estimated cost has yet to be calculated, but that it would not reach $1 billion a year. The bill also would increase state funding for an existing program that provides tax breaks to businesses that sponsor tuition scholarships for children in lower-income families. Tomalis said the “factory model” approach to education—in which a student’s residence determines which public schools he or she attends—is becoming outmoded with the expansion of charter schools and other alternatives to public schools. “We are about to face a clash between the ideals and expectations of the new generation of parents and a system that is designed for a generation of the past,” he said.
Source: Education Week, 2/17/11, By AP
[Editor's Note: In February 2011, AP reported in the Chicago Tribune that the Indiana House education committee had begun debate on one of the most controversial planks of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ sweeping education platform: a plan to use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. A summary of the article is available below.]