Pennsylvania would receive $156 million each year if Congress passes a measure to create scholarships for families who wish to send their children to private schools – if all 50 states participate in the program, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday during a visit to Harrisburg.
“It would establish a federal tax credit, an annual fund of $5 billion, and it would be voluntarily contributed to by individuals and corporations as a little portion of their tax bill annually," DeVos said of the proposed Education Freedom Scholarships during a roundtable discussion held at the Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School.
States would have the choice to participate, but there is no limit as to how the funds could be used, Devos said.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and other legislators said school choice does not hurt the public school system.
“Many of the students are going to be educated at public schools, and we want them to be as good as they can be,” Turzai said. “But there’s more options, and families should have those options, too.”
“Because of that choice and that competition, my public schools are better than ever,” said Rep. Kate Klunk, a Republican who represents portions of York County.
School choice means different things in different parts of the state, said Rep. Curtis Sonney, R-Erie, who chairs the House Education Committee.
“But the one thing that should not be different is the ability for parents and students to have a choice,” Sonney said. “We are going to continue to move down that road.”
Lawmakers pledged their support for the Education Freedom Scholarships with Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, saying he would make calls or write letters if needed.
“Businesses in Pennsylvania want to engage in this process,” Owlett said.
Republican state legislators have been pushing school choice through a series of bills but have met resistance from Gov. Tom Wolf. A state bill that would have given tax credits to donors of private and parochial schools was vetoed by Wolf in June.
Turzai announced he will reintroduce a statewide scholarship program.
“Today we have $180 million in scholarships,” Turzai told the roundtable. “That’s great. But it’s not enough.
Turzai has also proposed legislation that would give scholarships to children in the Harrisburg School District. The district is currently under receivership after allegations of financial mismanagement were revealed earlier this year. If the bill passes, some Harrisburg students would be eligible for about $7,100.
The discussion also featured school choice advocates and Thalia McClenton, whose two sons are able to attend Harrisburg Catholic Elementary Schools due to scholarships.