OPINION: Local Leader Sees Hope in PA Vouchers

From the Centre Daily Times in Pennsylvania:

In the coming weeks and months, Pennsylvania lawmakers will have the opportunity to give parents a real choice in the education of their children. Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, recently introduced Senate Bill 1. If the legislation passes, lowincome parents would receive the state education subsidy for their children in the form of a voucher. Parents could then use that money to help pay tuition at the school of their choice — public or private.

According to the bill, the legislation would be phased in over three years, starting with students currently enrolled in the lowest-achieving schools. In the second year, low-income students living within the attendance boundary of a failing school would be eligible. All lowincome students would be eligible in the third year. Based on federal poverty guidelines, a family of four earning about $28,600 a year would qualify for the program.

SB 1 also includes a $25 million funding increase for the state’s Educational Income Tax Credit. The program offers tax credits to businesses that direct a portion of their taxes to scholarships. In the past decade, area businesses have contributed more than $5 million for students in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown through the Second Century Scholarship Fund. Although the fund has received $1 million in each of the past two years alone, annual financial assistance is about $4 million.

For many parents, school choice cannot come a minute too soon. They work hard and pay their taxes, yet the cost of a private education for their children remains out of reach. How unfair is it that? Parents who pay their school taxes deserve some benefit from those taxes, including the right to choose the school that is the best option for their children. SB 1 is a step in the right direction.

Parents and students are not the only ones who would enjoy the rewards of SB 1. In fact, every taxpayer in Pennsylvania should welcome this legislation because school choice saves tax dollars. The average public school spending per pupil in 2008-2009 was almost $14,000. The base cost of the state’s subsidy per pupil is just shy of $9,000. By contrast, the average nonpublic school tuition in Pennsylvania is $3,500 (elementary) and $6,500 (high school).