Monday, April 25, 2011

PA Senate Voucher Update

Ø  On April 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported as amended Senate Bill 1, which establishes the Opportunity Scholarships and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act to make tuition vouchers available to low income students in persistently low achieving schools to attend participating nonresident public schools or nonpublic schools.  Under the proposal, a low income student is defined as a student with household income not greater than 130% of the federal poverty level, the same amount as eligibility for the Federal Free Lunch Program ($28,665 for a family of four).  The bill also expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) from $75 million to $100 million beginning in Fiscal Year 2011-2012.  

Senate Bill 1l was amended in the Senate Appropriations Committee to expand voucher eligibility in the fourth year of the program to middle-income families.  SB 1, as amended, would make tuition vouchers available to students with family income up to 300 percent of the poverty level ($67,050 for a family of four.   The amendment places a cap of $250 million in the third year when eligibility expands to include all low-income students.  The amendment also changes the attendance criteria from residing “during” a school year to “as of the first day of classes.”  The amendment would require schools to administer a nationally normed standardized achievement test in math and reading to voucher recipients and require the aggregate results to be posted online.  SB 1, as amended, requires the Education Opportunity Board to set procedures to determine the eligibility of homeless students for opportunity scholarships.  It also establishes a Public School Choice Demonstration Grant Program in Fiscal Year 2014-2015.  Grants of up to $500,000 would be awarded to school districts to provide tuition for students to attend a nonresident public school regardless of income.  The school district would be required to provide a $3-$1 match.  Twenty-five percent of the money from the Excess Scholarship Fund would be used to support these grants.  The bill was also amended to require participating public schools to accept transfer students by a lottery system.  Private schools would not be subject to the lottery provision and would be allowed to set enrollment criteria.

The Senate may vote on SB 1 as early as April 26, although action may be delayed while waiting for suggested amendments from the Corbett Administration.

To view the Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal Note for SB 1, click here.

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