By Ben Velderman
HARRISBURG, Pa. – A new school voucher plan being debated by lawmakers is the legislative equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in football:
It has little chance of succeeding, but it gives Pennsylvania’s most disadvantaged families a reason to hope.
State Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican, has introduced a bill that would allow businesses to “contribute to a scholarship account and receive a 75 percent tax credit in return,” reports PAIndependent.com.
Christiana’s plan builds on an existing state program that already provides $75 million in scholarships to low-income children, so they can attend the private or nonpublic school of their choice. The current program, which began in 2001, has proven very popular with Pennsylvania families.
Christiana’s new proposal would expand the current program from $75 million to $200 million, with most of the new money going to students who are stuck in Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing school districts.
“Advocates for the proposal (argue) it would not take a single dollar from the existing budgets of school districts, a major sticking point for a voucher proposal that passed the state Senate but never garnered enough votes in the state House last year,” PAIndependent.org reports.
Defenders of the status quo argue the plan “would prevent money from flowing into the state budget and would hurt funding for public education in the long run.”
Here’s an obvious question for voucher critics: What would be the long-term damage to the state budget if kids remain trapped in lousy schools and graduate entirely unprepared to succeed in life?
The answer is equally obvious: Businesses will be less likely to locate in Pennsylvania, leaving fewer people with jobs, less tax revenue coming into state coffers, and more tax revenue being spent on social welfare programs and prisons.
Killing a promising voucher program in order to protect Pennsylvania’s failing public school system is the epitome of being “pound wise and penny foolish.”
The critics’ flimsy financial argument is only meant to distract from the fact many Pennsylvania lawmakers are political surrogates for the teacher unions, and school choice is a direct threat to the unions’ control over public education.
Fewer children in union-controlled schools would lead to fewer dues dollars and less political clout for the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania. That’s the real reason Christiana’s voucher plan may never get off the ground.
But such an argument is purely academic, as lawmakers only have until June 30 to pass the bill out of committee and to include the voucher program in next year’s budget.
Christiana’s proposal may be a Hail Mary pass, but at least it gives Pennsylvania’s poorest, more desperate families a glimmer of hope for the future.