How Pennsylvania plan for vouchers would work

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The tuition voucher plan potentially in store for Pennsylvania is now in the House Education Committee, having been passed by the Senate, 27-20, on Oct. 26. The House has voted down past voucher plans, but the outcome of this year’s version is far from certain.

The plan calls for a three-year phase-in. In the first year, vouchers would benefit any low-income student enrolled in a persistently failing school. The second year, any low-income student residing in a district with a persistently failing school and attending a private school would be eligible. Thereafter, all low-income students would be eligible, regardless of how well their neighborhood school was performing.

Children from families earning less than $29,000 a year would be eligible to receive a full voucher equal to the state subsidy per child in their local district. Students from families earning less than $41,000 would get a voucher equal to 75 percent of the subsidy. On average, a family would receive $7,700 for each student.

In the first year, a failing school is defined as one in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide based on PSSAs – 143 schools, including 88 in Philadelphia. An estimated 70,000 children would be eligible next year, though projections suggest only 5-10 percent would use them.

A fiscal note prepared by Senate Republicans estimates the cost of the plan at $43 million in 2012-13 and about double that amount –$81 million – the next year. Projections published by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which opposes vouchers, are much higher: $52 million in year one and as high as $252 million in year two.