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For Immediate Release

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Education Committee Advances Piccola-Williams Amendment to Senate Bill 1

HARRISBURG -- The Senate Education Committee took an important step forward today endorsing legislation sponsored by Chairman Jeffrey Piccola (R-15) and Senator Anthony Williams (D-8) which calls for a renewed expansion to school choice in Pennsylvania and improves upon the educational futures of students beginning next year.

The Piccola-Williams amendment to Senate Bill 1 includes a three-prong approach to school choice including the creation of an opportunity scholarship program for low-income families trapped in failing schools, an expansion to the Commonwealth's very successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, and the reformation of Pennsylvania's current charter school law, according to Piccola.

"Our Committee's action today demonstrates bipartisan leadership and commitment to ensuring that every student despite their zip code is afforded a quality education in Pennsylvania," said Piccola. "In recent days, the Governor made his position known on school choice.  There have been numerous hearings in the General Assembly and thorough debate.  That's why Senator Williams and I are moving forward on our amendment which represents an emerging consensus regarding school vouchers, charters, and changes to the EITC program.  The time has come for adoption of a rescue plan for those students who have been failed by the current system."

The Piccola-Williams amendment would build upon a number of provisions originally included in Senate Bill 1, legislation they authored and sponsored earlier this year calling for the creation of an "Opportunity Scholarship Program."  Under their amendment, opportunity scholarships would be available beginning next year for students in low achieving schools ranked in the bottom five percent of schools in Pennsylvania.  Beginning in year two, opportunity scholarships would be available for all students residing in attendance boundaries of schools in the bottom five percent.  The amendment also includes a provision that would expand the program in year seven beyond the bottom five percent to include those schools that are 50 percent proficient or less in reading or math scores.

In addition to the opportunity scholarships, the Piccola-Williams amendment incorporates a number of reform provisions to Pennsylvania's Charter and Cyber Charter School Law that have been developed over several legislative sessions.  The amendment would streamline the process by which charter schools are created by establishing a standard application for all applicants to use; lengthening the initial term and renewal term for a charter school; clarifying the illegality of enrollment caps for charters; and providing for direct pay.  Moreover, the amendment addresses accountability, ethics and governance of charter school boards and requires greater disclosure of information from charter school foundations.  Finally, the amendment creates a statewide Charter School Advisory Committee charged with reviewing and making recommendations to the Legislature regarding issues involving charter and cyber charter funding. 

The Piccola-Williams amendment also calls for an expansion to the EITC program from $75 million to $100 million in the first year and $125 in year three.

"While today's Committee action is not the complete reform package, it is a very good first step and I look forward to the inclusion of other important components such as multiple authorizers as the legislative process further unfolds," added Piccola.

The amended version of Senate Bill 1 will now go before the full Senate for consideration.

Colleen Greer


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