PA legislature still divided on voucher bill, tax credits

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

With the voucher bill languishing, some Pennsylvania legislators seeking to help students attend non-public schools are pushing a stand-alone expansion of a related program. Under this program, businesses receive tax credits for donating to organizations that provide private school scholarships.

But key Republican senators view the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) bill, which passed the House 190-7 in early May, as a digression from the goal of enacting vouchers. Senate Education Committee chairman Jeffrey Piccola called it "DOA" and Senate GOP leader Dominic Pileggi called it a "distraction."

Senate Bill 1, which would give families vouchers for private and parochial schools while also expanding the EITC, has drawn rallies and well-financed lobbying campaigns on both sides.

Marc Stier, executive director of Penn Action, calls it "a fraud" that would mostly help middle-class children. An Education Law Center analysis estimated that just 8 percent of vouchers would go to disadvantaged children from the lowest-performing schools.

Penn Action members demonstrated in Washington on May 9, when Gov. Corbett told the pro-voucher American Federation for Children that despite his solid support, the bill faced tough opposition.

Republican-backed amendments designed to give it wider appeal would delay the program’s start to 2012-13. They would also raise income eligibility limits in 2015-16 while capping the total cost to no more than 3 percent of state education spending.

Even so, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), said "the bill is dead," citing lack of support in the House and in rural areas with few private or parochial schools. Pileggi has said a vote may be delayed until fall.

The House bill expanding the EITC would increase its funding from $60 million to $200 million in 2012-13, and raise the household income eligibility limit for scholarships from $67,000 to $75,000 in 2012.