Pennsylvania lawmakers are preparing to join Betsy DeVos in attempting to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to advance their school privatization agenda.
The House Education Committee has announced that on Thursday, October 1st, its members will vote on House Bill 2696, legislation that would use $500 million of CARES Act federal aid to establish a new and unaccountable school voucher program called “Back on Track” Education Savings Accounts.
This legislation proposes to give families $1000 in taxpayer money for each of their school-aged children. Families could spend this money as they please on educational expenses, including on tuition to private and religious schools. There are no provisions in the proposal to ensure vouchers are being used for appropriate educational expenses, making the program susceptible to fraud.
The PA Senate Education Committee is slated to have a hearing on companion legislation, Senate Bill 1230, on Monday, October 5.
Now more than ever, public schools need the support of state and federal policymakers. The pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges. Our public schools face a $1 billion loss in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 economic downturn. At the same time, public schools have had massive new costs associated with opening buildings safely, providing training to educators to effectively conduct remote teaching, and working to get students computers and access to the internet at home.
Spending $500 million in taxpayer money to create a new, unaccountable voucher program when public schools face enormous revenue shortfalls demonstrates a reckless disregard for the safety, well-being, and education of Pennsylvania’s public school students.
Even worse, supporters of HB 2696 are using low-income children as cover for their plan to funnel hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of well-off families, many of whom send their children to private schools.
The bill states that families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level receive preference for voucher funding only until November 16th, 2020, when their preference expires and the application opens to all families—regardless of their wealth.
HB 2696 and SB 1230 represent a choice between solving a problem in public schools, which educate 90% of Pennsylvania’s students, or advancing Betsy DeVos’s ideological agenda.
We will send out email updates as lawmakers vote on these bills.
Thank you for your support of public education.
Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA
PS: Betsy DeVos has admitted defeat in her attempt to take federal COVID-19 aid away from the poorest public school students in order to provide well-off children in private/religious schools a windfall of federal funding. The USDE will not appeal recent court decisions blocking their rule. In PA, that means $50 million in federal aid will stay in our public schools. This is a HUGE win!!!