from our friends at the Education Law Center:
The Education Law Center has analyzed an official Senate report detailing the cost of tuition vouchers for private and religious schools under Senate Bill 1. The "Fiscal Note" for SB 1 anticipates only a small percent of the vouchers will be used by students currently attending the 144 public schools identified as failing by the bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee officially attached the Fiscal Note to the bill on April 11, revealing that most of the vouchers are expected to go students already attending private and religious schools.
The Education Law Center has closely examined the data in the SB 1 Fiscal Note, which for the first time allows the public to see official details about the number of students expected to utilize vouchers and the cost of the voucher program:
- The cost of vouchers for tuition at private and religious schools will be more than $1 billion in total over the first four years.
- Only 7.6% of all vouchers will go to students from the 144 "worst" public schools.
- 65.3% of all vouchers will go to students already enrolled in private and religious schools.
- Only 9% of eligible students from the 144 "worst" public schools will be able to gain admission to a private or religious school and actually use their voucher. The annual cost will be $50 million.
- 100% of eligible students currently enrolled in private and religious schools will be able to use their voucher dollars, since they are already admitted. The annual cost will be $225 million.
Senate Democrats say that the Fiscal Note still underestimates these costs and that even fewer students at failing public schools will gain admission to a private or religious school in order to actually use the vouchers.
The battle over vouchers in Pennsylvania has focused for months on claims repeatedly made by voucher supporters that Senate Bill 1 will not be costly and will help students get out of failing public schools. Opponents of SB 1 have disagreed, emphasizing that the bill will cost more than $1 billion and transfer most of these tax dollars to private and religious schools for children who are not enrolled in a failing public school.
The April 11 Fiscal Note shows that SB 1 opponents were correct. "SB 1 is not really about school choice for families trapped in failing public schools," said Baruch Kintisch of the Education Law Center. "Instead, the bill is an expensive gift of taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools for the tuition of students who are already enrolled in those schools."
Joseph Bard of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools said, "In this time of billion dollar budget deficits, our state cannot afford a massive giveaway program to private and religious schools. Public money should be used to improve public schools, not to pay for the tuition of students currently attending private and religious schools."
The full Senate is expected to vote on SB 1 in the next week or two. Negotiations are going on behind the scenes to win the votes of senators who are on the fence. The latest changes being made to the bill divert even more of the voucher program away from needy students in struggling schools. For example, the Senate Appropriations Committee amended SB 1 to create a new kind of voucher for middle class families.
"The first priority of state policy for education should always be the best interest of disadvantaged students and their public schools, not political favors for private interests," said Kintisch.