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What is school choice and why is it important in Pennsylvania? Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — Private school vouchers are becoming a staple of Pennsylvania budget negotiations this year, with vocal backing from Republican-Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro and opposition from Democrats who narrowly control the state House of Representatives is in hot pursuit.

The voucher proposal on the table is known as the Lifeline Scholarship Program.

It teaches students topoor gradesPublic school districts are defined as schools in the bottom 15% of their peers based on annual reading and math performance and can be used for nonpublic school tuition, related costs, or special education in nonpublic schools You can apply for scholarships. school.

Programs of this kind are often framed as being about school choice. School choice is the name of an education movement that typically argues that taxpayer taxes should go to students and their families, not public educational institutions.

But choosing a school is much more than just a voucher, and it’s also a politically complex move. Here’s the background you need to know about the biggest budget battle of the year.

What is school choice?

School choice is a broad term, but the educational programs that tend to fall under it usually have at least one thing in common. That is, they are trying to provide a variety of educational opportunities at little or no cost, using tax dollars, not just funding. Public school.

Several school choice options exist within or parallel to the public school system.

These include an open enrollment policy that allows students to attend public schools regardless of location. A magnet school is a public school that specializes in a particular subject. Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of the school district.

States may also provide financial assistance to parents seeking private school options through tax credits and school choice vouchers that allow public school students to attend private schools using public funds.

Measures of this kind, particularly vouchers, are particularly controversial in Pennsylvania.

Vouchers have long been a top priority for Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg, and some Democrats are also in favor of the program. The group also included State Senator Anthony Williams (D, Philadelphia), who described Harrisburg’s debate over school choice as “a false narrative that pits choiceists against public schools.” bottom.

“If your school district has public schools that don’t educate children and aren’t safe, you don’t have to send your children there because of their socioeconomic status,” he said. “It’s unfair.”

Williams said he has happily voted in favor of many budget proposals over the past eight years that would increase funding for public schools, including underperforming schools in school districts based primarily in West Philadelphia. . “Unfortunately, many schools in my district are not performing well. In fact, their performance has declined,” he said.

But other Democratic lawmakers strongly disagreed, arguing that a healthy public education system cannot exist side by side with a voucher program. Teachers’ unions have taken a similar position.

Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said Mr. Askey’s claims were unacceptable, even though Mr. Shapiro says he does not support voucher programs that extort money from public schools.

“There is absolutely no way to create a tuition voucher program that doesn’t take money from public schools,” Askey said. “Our public school students have no time to waste on this crap.

What is the Education Improvement and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program?

Currently, Pennsylvania’s largest statewide school choice programs are two tax credits: the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC).

The EITC offers tax breaks to companies that donate money to nonprofits so they can fund private school scholarships or fund “innovative” programs in public schools. increase.

The OSTC program is similar, but aimed specifically at students from underperforming schools. Only students attending schools ranked in the bottom 15% of their peers are eligible for OSTC Fund scholarships.

Both deductions represent between 75% and 90% of the amount a company contributes, with a maximum tax credit of $750,000 per company. Credits are granted to businesses on a first-come, first-served basis until the state program limits are reached. In last year’s budget, the EITC cap was $340 million and the OSTC cap was $125 million.

Students are eligible for the EITC Scholarship if their annual household income does not exceed $105,183 and does not exceed $18,514 per family child for the 2022-23 school year. The OSTC eligibility guidelines are the same, with the added caveat that students must attend schools with lower grades.Average Scholarship Amount $2,554 for the 2021-22 school yearthe most recent year for which the data are available.

Supporters are mostly Republicans, We typically try to scale our program each budget cycle. It faces opposition from Democrats who fear public schools will be undermined by cutting state funding and pouring money into private schools that don’t need state funding.

How is the Lifeline Scholarship different?

If Lifeline Scholarships are passed by law as part of this year’s state budget, rather than providing tax credits to scholarship funders, state funds will go directly to private schools through a voucher program for students. will be

in recent years, Voucher programs are becoming more and more popular all over the country.

The idea gained prominence during Pennsylvania’s last legislative session when Sen. Judy Ward (R. Blair) introduced a Lifeline Scholarship bill.I didn’t pass that time, but Ward reintroduced this year Tweaked, that version now has clear support from the Republicans who control the state Senate.

“This measure will give more children who attend lower performing school districts the opportunity to attend schools that better meet their needs,” Ward wrote in a memo to senators.

Under the proposal, voucher money would only be available to students attending low-performing public schools.

Parents whose children are enrolled in one of these schools are notified annually that they are eligible for scholarships. Eligible students are selected on a first-come, first-served basis and scholarships may only be used for private school tuition, related costs, or private school special education costs.

Under the current wording of the bill, half-day kindergarten students will receive $2,500 a year, full-day kindergarten through eighth grade students will receive $5,000, and high school students will receive $10,000. Grants of up to $15,000 per year are available for students requiring special education services.

Lawmakers have yet to determine the total amount spent on the program, so it’s not yet clear how many students will receive scholarships.

The exact funding mechanism also remains vague at this point. Ward’s original proposal called for state funding directly from public school districts where students were dropping out, but her new plan called for funding to come from the state budget.

Who supports Lifeline Scholarships? Who wouldn’t?

Like school choice in general, the political debate over lifeline scholarships doesn’t break cleanly along partisan lines.

Republican lawmakers are largely in favor of scholarships, arguing they give parents significant control over their children’s education. Democrats often oppose vouchers, saying they shrink public schools and take money away from school districts in low-income neighborhoods that are already struggling.

But the top federal Democrat, Mr. Shapiro, backed lifeline scholarships during the campaign and then repeatedly backed them during budget negotiations, reinvigorating his supporters’ voices.

“Here in Pennsylvania, we believe every child of God deserves that vaccine,” Shapiro said in an interview with Fox News in June. “One of the best ways to ensure the success of our children, he said, is to ensure that all children receive a quality education.”

Mr. Shapiro has vowed to only support lifeline scholarships and school choice programs that do not strain public school funding. This situation is believed to be the primary reason the district adjusted legislation in this legislature to fund the program out of the budget rather than as part of the school district’s funding.

The governor’s stance on vouchers has sparked a backlash from teachers’ unions, unions generally, and public education advocacy groups who say the program will harm public education funding.

Last week, a broad coalition of labor organizations was formed, including AFSCME’s Council of State Education Associations 13. and Local 1776, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, have sent letters to Shapiro and Education Secretary Khalid Moomin emphasizing their disapproval of any effort to fund Lifeline Scholarships.

“It is plainly irresponsible to spend state funds on tuition vouchers that benefit private and religious schools when the Commonwealth has failed to fulfill its most basic obligations to students in our public schools. . Commonwealth Court Decided The lack of funds violates the Constitution,” the coalition wrote.

Lifeline Scholarship supporters, on the other hand, argue the opposite position. Nathan Bennefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, argued that the program would benefit public schools.

The latest Lifeline proposal is designed to operate using new state funds rather than funds taken from the existing public education budget, he said.

“This will cost public schools a penny and we can actually help public schools,” Benefield said. “Public schools get the same amount of money even if a student drops out. There are dozens of studies done on the effectiveness of these programs, and in nearly every case the educational choice is better.” It is clear.”

Lawmakers and the Shapiro administration have until midnight June 30 to approve the spending plan and decide whether to include Lifeline Scholarships.

But conflicts over vital scholarships could contribute to the overruns, meaning negotiations could drag on for weeks or months into the summer.

Samuel O’Neill is an intern at the Pennsylvania State Law Correspondents’ Association. Learn more about the program. Spotlight PA Funders are: foundation and readers like you People committed to responsible journalism that gets results.

https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2023/06/pa-school-choice-voucher-budget-explain-history-tax-credit/ What is school choice and why is it important in Pennsylvania? Spotlight PA

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