A bill to set up individual education spending accounts (Senate Bill 2) funded with money earmarked for public schools passed the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.
By a 7-5 vote, the committee's Republicans reported SB 2 to the Senate, barring Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R-Bucks) who sided with Democrats against it. (Click here to see how your Senator voted.) There are no plans for the full Senate to consider the bill at this time.
The bill sets up accounts with the Department of Treasury for parents in eligible districts — those that finish in the bottom 15 percent of PSSA test scores — to spend on Department of Education-approved expenses. This was also its fourth time on the committee calendar after a late proxy no in October ended its first consideration with defeat.
Expenses the savings accounts could cover include tuition to a private school, but also money spent on uniforms, a computer, a tutor or anything else connected to learning — except home schooling.
“Parents are the primary educators of their children,” said Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin). He and other proponents have claimed the bill will also help districts decrease class sizes and push public schools to do better.
“I don’t understand why government schools are afraid of competition,” Senate Education Committee Chair John Eichelberger (R-Blair) said.
The bill had vocal opposition from committee Democrats, including Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny) and Sen. Daylin Leach (R-Montgomery).
Leach especially, pointing to the money coming out of the school districts’ state subsidies, said it harmed already underfunded and underperforming schools that still needed to keep lights on and pay employee contracts.
“While there may be some semantic differences between vouchers and savings accounts, to me the problems with this are the same problem that existed with the voucher program,” Leach said.
Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) had offered to cooperate with DiSanto in October on the bill as a proponent of school choice, leading some to think his vote would swing. But Williams opposed SB 2, saying it was too open-ended and would lead to families wasting money and being unable to afford private tuition.
After the vote, DiSanto said the conversation about when the bill would be taken up in the full chamber was ongoing. But even if it passed the whole Senate and moved through the House, it would meet opposition from Gov. Tom Wolf.
"Senate Bill 2 would set up schools to fail and we cannot accept that as adequate for any of our children,” Wolf said in a statement. “I urge the full Senate to reject this measure and let's focus on giving our schools, students, teachers, and administrators the tools and resources that they need to succeed."
Ted Kirsch urged Governor Wolf, who supports new investment in public schools, urged him to veto the bill. Read the governor's statement here.
From the Pennsylvania Legislative Service
May 22, 2018