HARRISBURG – Parents would have a stronger role to play in deciding the best educational options for their children under legislation approved by the Senate Education Committee today, according to Chairman Scott Martin (R-13), President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-34) and Senator John DiSanto (R-15).
Senate Bill 1 would boost student achievement, ensure young people have access to high-quality schools and give every child an opportunity to succeed – without the billions in new spending and taxes advocated by Governor Tom Wolf.
Senate Bill 1 will expand funding for Pennsylvania’s highly successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs. According to data from the Department of Community and Economic Development, more than 60,000 students received scholarships through these programs in the most recent year for which figures are available; however, nearly 43,000 applicants were denied due to lack of funding.
“One lesson we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is there is no one-size-fits-all model that applies to every child. Some thrive in online learning, while others struggle. Some excel learning in groups, while others benefit from more individualized instruction,” Martin said. “Different students learn in different ways. We need an education system that acknowledges that and allows parents to put their children in the kind of environment that suits their needs and helps boost student achievement. The focus needs to be on the child, not on any one educational model.”
Similar approaches in other states have yielded positive results for students in both public and private schools, as well as taxpayers.
“Parents know what is best for their kids, so decisions about a child’s education should primarily be driven by parents, not by government. Expanding educational options is the best way to ensure our kids have the best chance for an education that meets their unique educational needs,” Corman said. “Many students have suffered during the pandemic. Putting education decisions back in the hands of parents will ensure students can begin to make up for the learning loss during COVID-19.”
In addition, the bill would make critical reforms to charter schools to provide additional accountability and transparency, as well as more flexibility in the application and renewal process, which was a key concern for charter schools. The Department of Education would also be required to act on cyber charter renewals within 120 days of receipt.
Charter schools would be required to submit their budgets to the authorizer or the Department of Education and make that information available on its website. The bill also provides for annual audits and the creation of an independent audit committee for each charter school entity.
The bill would also allow charter school students to benefit from dual enrollment programs, which allow students to participate in college courses while still enrolled in high school.
The plan is a sharp contrast to the approach in Governor Wolf’s budget address, which calls for $2 billion in new spending for schools, to be funded by a $3 billion Personal Income Tax increase that will negatively impact many middle-class households and more than one million small businesses located in communities throughout the Commonwealth that are already suffering due to the pandemic.
“There is a clear need to support education no matter where it takes place,” DiSanto said. “As we look to the future and life after the pandemic, we need to explore every option to best serve the education needs of all students. We can accomplish those goals without resorting to Governor Wolf’s massive new spending and tax increases – which would be the largest in Pennsylvania’s history – that will take more money out of the paychecks of middle-class families and make it impossible for many small businesses to continue operating.”
The governor requested the huge new spending increases despite the fact that Pennsylvania schools received record funding in the most recent state budget, while schools are sitting on reserves totaling more than $4 billion. Pennsylvania currently ranks 7th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending on education.
The Senate Republican plan would boost student achievement at a fraction of the cost of the governor’s plan, while ensuring students throughout the Commonwealth have access to good schools and additional resources, leading to better educational outcomes.
The bill was sent to the full Senate for consideration.
Terry Trego (717) 787-6535 (Martin)
Jason Thompson (717) 783-4958 (Corman)
Jonathan Humma (717) 787-6801 (DiSanto)