News for Advocates for Catholic Education in Pennsylvania
February 7, 2011
Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship Act – was introduced on January 28, 2011. The school choice debate in Pennsylvania begins! Thanks to your assistance during the last three weeks in responding to our ACE-PA alerts, our strong show of support kicked-off the school choice debate with bipartisan legislative support – 17 Senators co-sponsored SB 1.
We have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks, so I will thank you in advance for your help. Details about SB 1 and the ensuing debate will be posted to a new page on the PCC website, pacatholic.org/current-issues/school-choice. Check there regularly for updates. It is important that we draw as much support as possible for SB 1. So talk to your family, friends, and neighbors and anyone else who will listen. Everyone who cares about Pennsylvania’s future should talk to their state legislators about school choice. Not afraid to speak your mind publicly about school choice? Consider writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper in support of SB 1. PCC also has a page with links to major newspapers, http://www.pacatholic.org/resources/send-letter-to-editor/
Three cheers for school choice
“What do we want…school choice! When do we want it…now!”
Hundreds of students and their parents filed into the state Capitol Rotunda last month for a rally to cheer for Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship Act. SB 1 proposes a significant increase to the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. If passed, $100 million in EITC scholarships will be made available to qualified students. It also proposes vouchers for the poorest students in chronically failing schools. Parents can use the voucher to pay tuition at any school they choose, including a Catholic school if they wish.
It is not hard to see why students and their parents are cheering for this bill. The Opportunity Scholarship Act includes scholarships for both public-to-public and public-to-private school choice. Qualified families could access a number of educational options, giving them the opportunity to choose a school that best meets the needs of their child.
By virtue of their zip code, many families have no choice but to send their child to the school in their neighborhood, even if that school is failing. Most do not have the economic means to relocate to another district or pay tuition somewhere else. Parents in these areas who desire something better for their children are the loudest cheerleaders for SB 1.
The Catholic school community is also cheering the Opportunity Scholarship proposal. Because of constraints on the state budget, the voucher program starts small. In the first year, only low-income students currently attending a failing public school qualify. Eligibility will be expanded in the second and third years. Eventually every low-income student will be eligible. The increase in the EITC program will grant more scholarships to qualified families who are not included in the voucher program right away.
Not every qualified student will choose a Catholic school, but it is likely that many will. Catholic educators can already attest how the EITC has helped Catholic schools; SB 1 will allow even more families a chance to get a Catholic education. More students in our classrooms is good news for our schools; more students will help keep Catholic schools open.
Citizens who care about Pennsylvania’s future are cheering, too. Not everyone is the parent of a school-aged child but most of us are taxpayers. School choice saves tax dollars because non-public schools often provide an excellent education for a fraction of the cost of public schools. Every child in Pennsylvania is entitled to an education. If we can redirect a portion of the state subsidy to provide the same child an education in a less costly program, isn’t it worth considering? Nonpublic schools should be included, not excluded, from the plan to create a more effective educational system.
A good education helps children grow up to be good citizens. Growing as many good citizens as we can will help ensure a better and brighter future for all of us.
Add your voice to the school choice cheerleading squad. Visit, call, write or e-mail your state legislators and ask them to support the Opportunity Scholarship Act – SB 1. The PCC has created a school choice link on its website that will help you craft your message to legislators. Learn more at pacatholic.org/current-issues/school-choice
PCC’s February 2011 column in the diocesan newspapers
2011 Catholic Education Priorities:
1. School Choice Legislation
2. Increase the funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program to $100 million and add corrective language that fixes unforeseen problems.
3. Build the ACE-PA advocacy network.
4. Equity in education funding for all students in Pennsylvania.
ACE-PA is one of the most important tools we have to influence public policy. With your participation, we can truly change Catholic education in Pennsylvania. I would like to say hello to all our new members and welcome them to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s ACE-PA monthly newsletter. The newsletter will update our volunteers of current Catholic school issues and identify our legislative priorities for the upcoming budget cycle in Pennsylvania.
Technology allows more user interaction for ACE-PA:
Catholic education is among the many issues with which the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference gets involved. Please help spread the word to all your family and friends to assist us in growing the ACE-PA advocacy network. It’s simple, just forward this link click here. PCC also advocates on issues of religious liberty, life and the dignity of the human person, marriage and family, social justice, health care, and faith and politics during the election cycle. Check any and all of the categories on the sign-up screen to receive updates on each of them.
All information supplied will only be used for Pennsylvania Catholic Conference purposes. Providing your home address allows the system to determine your legislative district. If you choose to use the PCC website to send a message to your legislators, it will go to the appropriate elected official. Legislators are most influenced by communications that come from their own constituents.
The latest news about Catholic education issues in Harrisburg is posted as it happens on PCC’s website, pacatholic.org/catholic-education and on the ACE-PA Facebook page. Information about ACE-PA can also be found on the front page of pacatholic.org. Watch for the logo in the scrolling list of featured articles. This page will offer resources that will help you boost our advocacy for Catholic education in Harrisburg, but also in your school, parish and community.
The future of Catholic education in Pennsylvania depends on all of us. If you have any suggestions on improving ACE-PA or increasing our membership, please contact me at [email protected].