This could push any chance of another voucher vote until after next year’s legislative election.
Meanwhile, the state Senate voted 26-24 to approve new congressional district boundariesthat would govern U.S. House races from next year through 2020. The plan, which recasts the midstate’s congressional delegation, passed intact despite charges by Democrats of a secret political power play and significant dislike from some Republicans. Sens. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, and Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, voted no. The plan will face a final vote in the House today.
On Wednesday night, the House, following a lengthy debate, voted 105-90 to reject a scaled-back education-reform plan that would expand the state’s Education Improvement Tax Credit program and overhaul the state’s charter school law.
House Republican leaders tried to keep their word on vouchers in the afternoon during an angst-filled caucus discussion. They offered several iterations of voucher plans of a smaller scale than the one that the Senate passed this fall.
“The votes are not there on either side of the aisle,” said Steve Miskin, news secretary to House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, as he announced that the House leaders would shift their focus to the more limited school-reform package.
Members said opposition to even a limited pilot program — which would still be a major shift in public education — came from those opposed to diverting public dollars to private schools.
Others felt they did not want to talk about vouchers in an environment in which state aid to public schools is declining. Still others more clearly didn’t want to risk the wrath of public school teachers — and their unions — and the parents of children in their hometown schools.
Despite that, the Corbett administration was not conceding anything Wednesday night.
“We expect the House leadership to live up to their commitment to the children of Pennsylvania and the governor to run and pass a school-choice bill as quickly as possible,” Corbett’s news secretary, Kevin Harley, said.
It was a bitter defeat for school-choice advocates, many of whom have been pushing for this school reform for nearly two decades. They came achingly close to victory on at least two occasions in the late 1990s and were re-energized by Corbett’s election last year.
“It’s beyond disappointing. ... I hope they are thinking about the kids, but it’s hard for me to see that when the kids and the parents are the ones stuck with the same situation they are currently in,” said Dawn Chavous, executive director of Students First PA, a nonpartisan group dedicated to bringing school choice to Pennsylvania. “We’re going to keep fighting. I’m not going to go anywhere.”
Some members said they did not expect the voucher concept to return soon.
“It’s highly unlikely that it would be reconsidered at any time during this current session,” which runs through Nov. 30, 2012, said House Republican Whip Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion. “We gave it a try. At some point, you have to recognize that the votes aren’t there and say: ‘OK, let’s move on to the other important issues.’¤”
But one voucher supporter said he’d be willing to try again despite concerns about touching such a controversial issue in a legislative election year.
“I think the complexion of the Legislature is changing and there are more representatives willing to touch the hot burners, so I don’t think the old paradigms should be assumed,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg.
The voucherless education-reform plan that the House shot down called for expanding the state’s $75 million Education Improvement Tax Credit program, which provides tax credits for business contributions to scholarship funds or public school programs. It overwhelmingly passed a similar measure last spring that pumped up the program’s funding to $100 million next year and to $200 million the following year.
That plan also would have reformed the state’s charter school law with an eye toward creating more schools. It would have established more financial accountability from charters and form a state commission that would authority to approve creation of charter schools, among other changes.
“We think this is a great opportunity to make sure many children and their families can have choices in their life,” Turzai said at the start of the House debate. But a majority of the members didn’t agree.