Education Reform to Be Voted on By Pa. Senate Committee

June 7, 2021, Harrisburg, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee will vote today on a bill that would increase children’s access to high-quality education. The Excellence in Education for All Act, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs and implement sensible reforms to the state’s charter school law.

Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nathan Benefield issues the following statement:

During the pandemic school year, an unprecedented number of families had to educate their children at home or sought new schooling options, such as private and charter schools. The Excellence in Education for All Act is a momentous step toward supporting those families’ choices.

The bill will implement helpful reforms to charter schools and expand our successful tax credit scholarship programs. Currently, tens of thousands of students sit on waiting lists, both for scholarships and for charter school spots, because of limits on both. Families are demanding these options, but too often their children’s future is being kept out of their control. That should never be: Every child should have the opportunity to receive an excellent education at a school of their family’s choice regardless of their ZIP code.

It is unfortunate to see teachers’ union leaders and taxpayer funded lobbyists—who benefit financially from the status quo—opposing these reforms. We call on the Pa. General Assembly and the governor to see past this antagonism and join together in supporting what parents want for their children, rather than constraining them.

In 2019, before the pandemic, almost 43,000 students were denied tax credit scholarships due to caps on the program. The EEA would expand the total available EITC credits from $185 to $300 million (of which $235 million would be dedicated to K-12 scholarships) and OSTC scholarships from $55 million to $100 million. The bill would also allow the scholarship programs to grow year-to-year based on demand.

Neither of these scholarship programs impact public school funding. In fact, education funding in Pennsylvania has increased steadily for decades.

SB 1 also provides needed reforms to Pennsylvania’s charter school law: Creating independent authorizers for new charter schools; strengthening ethic requirements; and giving charter school students access to local school buildings, testing sites, and dual enrollment programs. Tens of thousands of students are currently waitlisted by charter schools, and many of those that do get in are denied access to programs available to other public-school students.

Another needed education reform with the Pa. Senate Education Committee is the Education Opportunity Account Scholarship Program for Exceptional Students. It would create new options for students with special needs by giving them access to special-use accounts dedicated to education-related expenses.

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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