Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters of PA, issued the following statement about Republican leadership’s decision to rig the makeup of the Senate Education Committee:
Senate Republican leaders demonstrated the lengths to which they will go in an attempt to pass anti-public education legislation out of the Senate Education Committee.
On October 24th, the Senate Education Committee failed to pass Senate Bill 2, legislation that would bring a new generation of school vouchers known as education savings accounts (ESAs) to Pennsylvania. On December 12th, Senator Eichelberger went over Senate Bill 2 because there were not enough votes on the committee to pass it.
Rather than accept that committee members do not support SB 2, Committee Chair Eichelberger and Senate leadership took extraordinary measures and changed the makeup of the committee. Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) who voted against SB 2 on October 24th, resigned. Republican leadership replaced Laughlin with Senator Richard Alloway (R-Franklin), a known supporter of school vouchers.
For the vote on SB 2 and moving forward, the inclusion of Alloway will ensure that the structure of the committee will be generally more in favor of anti-public education, pro-school privatization legislation.
It is deeply troubling that instead of focusing on improving opportunities for student success in PA’s public schools, which educate 90% of PA’s students and are open to every child, Senate Republican leaders rigged the membership of a committee in order to advance the agenda of the school privatization lobby and appease their deep-pocketed corporate donors.
Issues with SB 2 include:
- ESAs will drain desperately-needed funding from public schools and reduce access to educational opportunities for all students in order to fund the private education of a few.
- ESAs enshrine discrimination against Pennsylvania’s children into law. ESAs enable the resegregation of public schools and allow private schools accepting taxpayer dollars to discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, and disability status. Students with disabilities, if they are permitted to enroll in a private school, must give up their rights under Federal law to an appropriate education.
- ESAs in SB 2 are designed to benefit wealthy families, not families with low or modest incomes. There are no income limits for families that are eligible for ESAs and the amount of funding a family receives in an ESA in many cases will not be enough to cover the full tuition at a private school.
- ESAs are expensive to administer and financial oversight and accountability are limited, leaving taxpayer dollars ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse. Arizona, which has had ESAs for 6 years, has seen families use ESA funding to make non-educational purchases and other fraud. Once families spend these taxpayer dollars, it is almost impossible to recover them.
- ESAs can impact any school district, not just districts with low performing schools. A student who receives an ESA is eligible for an ESA for the rest of his K-12 school career, regardless of school district he lives in. When students with ESAs move, their new school districts will have state funding reduced by the amount that is deposited into the student’s ESA.
- There is little academic oversight or accountability for private schools that would receive public funding. SB 2 does not require private schools to administer the PSSA or Keystone exams or require any regulation or oversight over the education that private schools provide students.