HARRISBURG, October 26, 2011 –State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/ Montgomery) today expressed his dismay at Senate approval of legislation (Senate Bill 1) that would institute a school voucher program in 144 Pennsylvania schools.
“The voucher plan will make the financial problems of the Philadelphia School District and other struggling districts across the state that much worse,” Hughes said. “The financial burden of this plan will strain the budgets of school districts and cost taxpayers millions.”
Hughes noted that the Philadelphia School District just announced another $22 million in budget cuts.
Senate Bill 1 was approved today on a 27-22 vote.
“It is disappointing that this legislation passed the Senate,” Hughes said. “Not only is the plan costly to taxpayers and public schools, it does not put into practice proven reforms that have a track record of success in education.
“All children and all schools should benefit from education reform.”
Hughes said the plan would cost $133 million in 2013-14. Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget slashed public school funding by $1 billion this year. He added that there is no new money to fund school vouchers.
“On top of last year’s basic education cuts, we are demanding that our public schools cut even more from their resources for the 90 to 95 percent of children left in low-performing schools,” Hughes said. “It offers no commitment to provide additional dollars for charter school reimbursement in Philadelphia – and across the state.
“On top of that, this school voucher concept no track record of success. School reform is necessary — and should be a top priority — but it needs to be done with proven solutions like longer school days, Saturday classes, smaller classes, intervention and parental involvement, not through costly initiatives that benefit only a relatively small number of students.”
Hughes offered an amendment that would establish so-called “Hope Academies” that included many of the concepts that he said were successful in raising student achievement. The West Philadelphia lawmaker’s amendment was rejected on a party line vote of 20 to 29.
Senate Bill 1 offers taxpayer-funded vouchers to low-income students in poorly performing public schools. The vouchers would first be available to low-income children enrolled in the bottom 5 percent of the worst-performing schools. In the second year, the plan would then be expanded to include private-school students who live in the districts of those failing schools.
By the seventh year, vouchers would be offered to low-income students at any public school where half of the students are performing below grade level on state math or reading exams.
The measure would also expand the state’s Education Improvement Tax Credits — a program giving tax breaks to businesses that donate to private-school scholarships or public-school programs.
Hughes said that this costly measure would short-change real education reform and take much needed funding from public schools.
“There is no doubt that reform is needed to improve education in low-performing schools, but it cannot take funds from public schools because that disadvantages the students left behind in the public school,” Hughes said. “We need reforms that help all students in all schools.”
“Reform should start with using ideas in education that have a long record of success and not rely on concepts where the evidence of academic achievement is inconclusive. That is why I offered my plan – the Hope Academy concept – that would have implemented proven educational solutions.”
Hughes, who serves as the Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public schools are already struggling with severe budget cuts as a result of Gov. Corbett’s budget and do not have the resources or the latitude that private schools have in adjusting policy.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.