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State Senate Takes Up School Voucher Bill

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — This afternoon, the state Senate began consideration of a school voucher bill.

Its supporters say it will create competition to make public schools better, but some worry about its impact on public education.

Should state tax dollars be redirected from public schools to private or parochial schools by giving some parents a voucher if their kids attend the worst public schools?

That’s what the school voucher issue is all about and public school advocates like Patrick Sable, CFO at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit that represents the county’s 42 school districts, are worried.

“Monies are leaving school districts to go to religious or charter or private schools at the expense of those students who are remaining behind in that school district,” Sable told KDKA-TV Political Editor Jon Delano.

Under the school voucher bill being debated in Harrisburg, only some would get school choice.

If this bill is enacted, the poorest children based on family income from the 144 lowest-performing schools in the Commonwealth would be eligible for state taxpayer-paid for vouchers to attend private or religious schools.

In this area, that would include families with children at Oliver, Westinghouse, or Wilkinsburg high schools — or Sto-Rox or Wilkinsburg middle schools — or the following grade schools: Arlington, Clairton, Fairless, Johnston, King, Murray, Northview, Stevens, Sto-Rox, Woodland Hills, Woolslair, Duquesne Consolidated, or the Faison Arts Academy.

The vouchers range from $5,700 in Woodland Hills to nearly $14,000 in Duquesne and come out of the state subsidy to those local public school districts.

Some lawmakers worry that taking that money from poor performing school districts will only make things worse.

“It’s the students that are left behind and the school buildings left behind with fewer resources, that is a major concern to a lot of folks,” says State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

“When you pull those funds away from a school that is doing well as long as the resources are there,” adds Sable, “even though they may be in a less affluent area, it really hurts their public school system.”

Whether school vouchers hurt public schools — or create an incentive for them to improve — is the big debate in Harrisburg.

Another issue: is it constitutional to send public tax dollars to private and religious institutions?

The Senate may vote on the voucher bill later tonight.

The House has not yet scheduled the measure for consideration.

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