Educational choice in PA has expanded in past 20 years

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — School choice is advancing in Pennsylvania, even as a public school voucher plan remains stuck in legislative limbo.

As the New Year dawns over the state Capitol, lawmakers and lobbyists are geared up for another fight over the creation of a public school voucher program aimed at providing educational options for the children of low-income families who are enrolled in failing public schools.

For advocates of school choice initiatives, vouchers are the brass ring that remains out of reach — a hope that was rekindled last year when Republicans took control of all three branches of the legislative process.

“It’s one step at a time. Pennsylvania is not a state where big things get done quickly and we know that,” said Ana Puig, head of theBucks County-based Kitchen Table Patriots, a tea party group, and a lobbyist for school choice advocacy group Freedom Works.

The state Senate passed a voucher bill in November, but attempts to get it through the state House in December failed.

But while vouchers get most of the ink — as they have since they were first proposed by Gov. Tom Ridgein 1996 — the educational options available to Pennsylvania families today has expanded dramatically in 20 years.

Pennsylvania boasts a robust charter school system that includes cyber charter schools; the Education Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, which provides an average scholarship of $1,000 to low-income families who want their children to attend private schools; and rules that allow parents to teach their students at home.

The key is to improve education options, said Ken Kilpatrick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, which represents charter schools in the state.

“It’s families making a choice about what school will give my child the best educational future,” Kilpatrick said. “Competition is forcing districts to think about how they can improve.”

The numbers speak for themselves. Continue  reading.

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