House GOP shops around hybrid school choice plan
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HARRISBURG -- In budget negotiations with the governor and Senate, House Republican leaders are advocating to expand tax credits to businesses that provide scholarship donations.
While Republicans in both chambers have sought to provide students with alternatives to public schools, the Senate has supported creating a program of taxpayer-funded vouchers for students in the worst-performing schools. The House has preferred expanding the tax credit program.
But leaders in that chamber are now arguing for a framework proposed by Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, that contains aspects of both approaches.
The proposal would raise the cap on the total tax credits available each year to businesses participating in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which provides scholarships for students to attend non-public schools, while creating a parallel program for students from the lowest-achieving 15 percent of public schools. Like the existing tax credit program, the proposed Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit program would provide aid to students with family incomes below a threshold.
"That's the concept we are advocating right now," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans.
House leaders have described the proposal to Senate Republican leaders, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for the caucus. But he said they have not seen specific language and cannot comment on the idea.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, has advocated for changes in education policy including charter school reform, teacher evaluations, school vouchers and expansion of the EITC.
After a budget meeting in the governor's offices Thursday, House Speaker Sam Smith said the discussions included "a broad range of education reform," including the topics of cyber-charter schools and the EITC program.
"I would say EITC still maintains a lot of stronger support and interest," he said. "Vouchers in the purest sense of [last year's Senate proposal] are less likely to be in that mix."
Mr. Christiana described his proposal in a memo to House members on Wednesday, and he said he expects dozens of lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, to sign on. He said he would like the proposal enacted in time to "allow students an option before they go back to school in the fall."
"I think this is the opportunity to get it done, when we're going through the budget negotiation," he said.
Last June, Mr. Christiana sought support for a proposal to offer vouchers to students in low-performing schools while expanding the existing tax credit program.
In his memo to House members, Mr. Christiana proposes authorizing $100 million in tax credits for the Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit program for the coming school year. That level would increase to $150 million starting in July 2013 and $200 million the following year. The scholarships would be funded entirely with contributions from businesses.
His proposal also would increase the authorized tax credits for the existing EITC program from the current $75 million to $100 million in the year starting July 1 and $200 million for subsequent years.
First Published June 8, 2012 12:00 am