PA lawmakers pass ‘Lifeline Scholarship’ bill

PENNSYLVANIA — On Wednesday, the state House Education Committee narrowly approved a bill that would allow students in under-performing school districts to take their state funding and use it to attend private or religious schools.

Opponents said this will take money from already struggling schools, while supporters say students deserve to have the education of their choice.

Bill 2169, or the “Lifeline Scholarship” measure would allow eligible students to use their state funding to attend a school of their choice. This measure specifically impacts students attending schools in the bottom 15 percent of performance across the commonwealth — students in these schools would be able to access the funding as early as first grade and would remain eligible up until their senior year.

“You had to wait for the lottery process,” said a Pennsylvania mom explaining her experience with sending her two kids to private school.

Jimena Alzate said a lottery determined whether her two children could go to a private catholic school, not merit. And her home school couldn’t give them the education she wanted them to have.

“I knew that I didn’t want to send my kids to my neighborhood school because I knew the numbers weren’t that great,” said Alzate.

So unable to pay for private tuition, she entered her son and daughter into a lottery, knowing that she would have to re-enter every two years.

Going through that process is why Alzate supports House Bill 2169.

“I have heard from a lot of families and students that are in really stuck in failing schools,” said Republican Representative, Clint Owlett of Bradford County.

The measure would allow students in schools in the bottom 15 percent by performance — to use their state funding to attend a school of their choice.

“They retain the federal and the local money for a student that they’re not educated, so I don’t understand how this takes money,” said Owlett.

Opponents, like the state’s largest teacher union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), estimate this would take 170 million dollars per year from public education – losing an estimated $7,000 in state funding per student.

“Many more students will remain at their schools and those schools will have their funding deplete,” said Chris Lilienthal, of PSEA.

They also said there’s no guarantee this new model will close the achievement gap.

“Another big concern that we have is a complete lack of accountability for how these funds will be spent for those students who do take those tuition vouchers,” said Lilienthal.

The bill has passed the house and is now moving to the senate chamber — if approved it will go to the governor.