Controversial school vouchers divide state legislature, education advocates

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Commonwealth Court judge ruled in March that the state’s public schools funding “falls woefully short and violates students’ constitutional rights.” That’s something most of the state legislature doesn’t argue. Where the divide comes is how to fix the problem. Some argue school vouchers are a solution. It’s a huge part of budget discussions as the budget deadline looms Friday.

Republican Senator Kim Ward from Westmoreland County has said school vouchers known as “Lifeline Scholarships,” are her top priority. Even Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro says he supports these types of vouchers.

So how do they work? The vouchers would use public school funding to allow students in underperforming districts to attend private or religious schools. They would come on a first-come, first-served basis and top out at $15,000 a scholarship.

Democratic Senator Lindsey Williams says this will siphon money from public schools with no oversight or accountability.

“There are vast inequalities that kids get in one district versus another,” Sen. Lindsey Williams said.  “But this will destroy public education in Pennsylvania.”

Williams fears taxpayers will be on the hook.

“We’re already seeing our local property taxes going up,” Williams says. “One of my local districts, Shaler, voted to raise taxes last night.  This will only make it worse.”

Marc Stier, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center says he’s not opposed to these vouchers, neither is his organization. He says we need to properly fund public schools first.

“What we’re going to encourage people to do today is look at the details of the bill,” Marc Stier said.  “We need a program with accountability.”

Several education advocates and teacher’s unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, blasted the vouchers during a press conference in Harrisburg Tuesday. They say no matter how you look at it, you’re taking money from public schools that are already underfunded.

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