By A. B. Hill

Undeterred by the clouds and raindrops, hundreds of students, parents, teachers and other school choice supporters gathered in front of the state Capitol on April 12 to hoot, holler and cheer for Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act. This was the second big rally this year for school choice.

Catholic school students from all corners of the state traveled to the Capitol to join the rally, but also meet with their elected officials. Anne Curry, principal of St. Ambrose School in Schuylkill Haven, Diocese of Allentown, thought the trip to Harrisburg was a good experience for the children. She said, “The students got to see their government in action.” Parent chaperone Christine Johnson agreed. The class met with their state representative in his office and even had a chance encounter with Gov. Tom Corbett in the hallway. Her son Stephen got to shake the governor’s hand. {{more}}

Another student was very excited to voice her support for Senate Bill 1. “With school choice, we think more kids could get a better education,” said fourth grader Danielle Kunst. She got up very early to ride the bus with fellow students from spanine Redeemer School in Ford City, Diocese of Greensburg.

Senate Bill 1 increases the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship program and provides Opportunity Scholarship Grants, or vouchers, to low-income students to pay tuition at any school they choose, including a Catholic school if they wish. The bill successfully passed Senate Appropriations Committee with a 15-11 vote the day before with amendments.

One amendment adds a fourth year to the school voucher phase-in plan. In year four vouchers will be extended to include families who earn up to 300 percent of the poverty level. A family of four earning about $67,000 per year would qualify.

Another amendment put a cap on available vouchers at $250 million in the third year and beyond, or about 1 percent of the state’s education budget. If demand for vouchers exceeds this limit, the legislature could enact an increase in later years.

Having passed the Senate Education and Appropriations Committees, the next step for Senate Bill 1 is the floor of the Senate. Then it will be considered by the House of Representatives. The General Assembly will resume its consideration of Senate Bill 1 when it returns to session after Easter.

A. B. Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania.