May 23, 2022

Jackie Huff: Voucher Bill Has Dire Consequences for Pennsylvania Public Schools

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Pennsylvania’s House just passed a new voucher bill. State College Area School Board member Jackie Huff explains why the bill would be bad news for public education in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania state House recently passed a school voucher bill, HB 2169. If successful, this bill creates a voucher program in which students who attend low-achieving schools would be eligible for a “Lifeline Scholarship” to attend a private school instead.

Let’s be clear: Lifeline Scholarships would redirect taxpayer dollars from public schools to pay for private educational uses. Every child in the commonwealth deserves a quality education, but this bill completely misses the mark and has dire consequences for our public school system.

HB 2169 has many problems, but here are three of the big issues.

First, these Lifeline Scholarships will rob resources from districts that need them the most. If a student elects to leave public school X and uses a Lifeline Scholarship to attend a private school, the funds given to the parents of the student to spend on “qualified education expenses” will come out of the budget for the public school X. Pennsylvania has been chronically underfunding school districts for decades—so taking additional funds away from districts that are being underfunded already is only going to exacerbate the problem.

In recent polling, nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania parents with children in K-12 schools supported providing struggling schools with additional resources and supports. The voucher bill would do the opposite and continue to squeeze districts that are fighting to make ends meet and get the services that their students deserve.

Second, there is already a pathway for students to get funded for a private school if they are in a low-performing school. The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) targets the same low-performing schools that the voucher bill does and provides scholarships for students to attend private schools. Why are we building an additional pathway to send taxpayer dollars to private schools when one already exists?

Third, there is no academic oversight or accountability for schools that receive scholarships through this voucher bill. Students will not have to participate in state assessments or even alternative assessments. There is no data reporting required that would allow for an objective evaluation of the success of the program. These are taxpayer dollars that would be sent directly to private schools. How can we ensure that our tax dollars are doing what they are supposed to be doing if there is zero oversight?

Read the full op-ed here.

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