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.