Education Choice Bill Passes In PA House

A bill with some momentum in the General Assembly would expand school choice with public funding.

The Pennsylvania House passed an education bill to give students in low-performing schools a scholarship to move districts. The bill, HB2169, was introduced by Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, to establish a Lifeline Scholarship for students to leave an underperforming local school and enroll elsewhere. It narrowly passed 104-98.

Giving parents a choice

“Parents with school age children (1st through 12th grade) who reside within the attendance area of a district school in the bottom 15% of performance metrics based on state testing would be eligible to receive a scholarship to offset costs associated with choosing an alternative academic setting that meets their child’s individual learning needs,” Rep. Owlett said in a legislative memo.

Some conservative groups view the scholarship program as a way to give parents access to better schools.

“HB 2169 extends transformative educational opportunity to students,” said Senior Vice President of the Commonwealth Foundation Nathan Benefield. “While many students attend a great public school, there are too many – especially in low-income communities – stuck in a school that isn’t meeting their needs.”

“These scholarships empower families to choose the education their children deserve,” Benefield said.

The Commonwealth Foundation noted the funding was “modest” and public schools will keep the majority of per-student funds they receive. “Close to two-thirds of the $19,200 per student spent on public schools would remain with the school district, even though the district no longer pays to educate the student that leaves on a Lifeline Scholarship,” the Foundation noted in a press release.

Facing strong opposition

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has denounced the bill.

“The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted today on a bill that will strip millions in state funding from public school districts, charter schools, and cyber charter schools in need of more support, not less, to meet the needs of students,” it said in a press release.

“This is a shockingly irresponsible tuition voucher proposal that will end up hurting Pennsylvania’s students and wasting taxpayers’ money,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “There is no accountability for how these funds are spent.”