UPDATE: Senator Eichelberger adjourned the Senate Education Committee meeting on October 24th after announcing a 6-5 vote in favor of Senate Bill 2. Later in the day, after an outcry from many people, Education Committee leaders acknowledged that Senator Tomlinson’s proxy had cast a NO vote that had not been recorded by the Education Committee. The vote was then struck. It is as if the vote never happened so SB 2 did not pass out of committee today, but instead remains there, waiting for action in the future.
For Immediate Release
October 24, 2017
Education Voters of PA
Media contacts: Susan Spicka firstname.lastname@example.org
Senate Education Committee votes to create education savings accounts, a new and costly government entitlement program to give taxpayer dollars to well-off families that educate their kids in private schools
Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters of PA issued this statement following the Senate Education Committee’s passage of Senate Bill 2, the education savings account bill:
It is deeply troubling that lawmakers whose irresponsible actions have ruined PA’s credit rating voted today to pass school voucher legislation that will blow even bigger holes in school district budgets throughout the commonwealth.
The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 2, legislation that will create education savings accounts, a new and costly government entitlement program that will give a pot of taxpayer dollars to families that meet certain criteria and chose to educate their children in a private setting. SB 2 proposes a voucher program for children who live in the catchment of a low-performing school and have attended public school for one semester and for children who have received an ESA the prior year.
ESAs require that taxpayer dollars be removed from school districts and given to parents, who will be allowed to spend this money on private/religious school tuition, college savings, tutors, supplies, and other educational expenses.
ESAs will benefit well-off families. There are no income limits for families that receive ESAs and the amount of funding a family would receive in an ESA in most cases will not be enough to cover the full tuition for low or modest income families, even at the most inexpensive private school.
ESAs enshrine discrimination against Pennsylvania children into law. They enable the resegregation of public schools and allow private/religious schools accepting taxpayer dollars to discriminate against children on the basis of gender, religion, and disability status. Students with disabilities, if they are permitted to enroll, must give up their rights under Federal law to an appropriate education.
ESAs are very expensive to administer and ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse. Oversight and accountability are limited. Arizona, which has had ESAs for 6 years, has seen money siphoned to make non-educational purchases and other fraud. In one 6-month period in 2016 an audit found that $102,000 had been misspent by parents. Once families spend these taxpayer dollars, it is almost impossible to recover them.
ESAs drain desperately-needed funding from public schools, creating more pressure on property taxes to fill the hole they will leave.
PA lawmakers claim that they are only interested in providing ESAs to a limited group of students. However, if ESAs are enacted in Pennsylvania, there is little reason to believe that eligibility would remain restricted to a small group of students. Organizations that promote ESAs, including the American Federation for Children (the group founded by Betsy DeVos) and the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), have made clear that their ultimate goal is to privatize America’s public education systems. In Arizona ESAs were initially restricted to students with disabilities and students attending low performing schools, but on April 7, 2017 Arizona’s governor signed a law that made every child in an Arizona public school eligible for the program.
It is deeply troubling that instead working to fix PA’s public school funding crisis, many lawmakers are instead trying to advance the agenda of the school privatization lobby, which will create more costs for taxpayers and even deeper deprivation for students in public schools.