“My mom wanted something better for us so she sent us to the Joshua Group,” says Lance Deane “Through God’s work … my brother and I were the first in our family to graduate from college. I didn’t come from much; all I wanted was an opportunity.”
It was school choice that gave Deane that opportunity. In high school he received a tax credit scholarship through the Joshua Group, a nonprofit organization focused on the guidance of at-risk youth in Harrisburg through mentoring and positive role models. Deane’s young single mother took advantage of school choice so he could graduate from Bishop McDevitt High School, and now he is a recent graduate of Kutztown University. Deane credits his success today to the opportunity he was afforded upon changing schools after 8th grade.
Deane told his story to State Senator John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) and many parents, students, school officials, community leaders, and other lawmakers who gathered to show support for DiSanto’s proposed Education Savings Account legislation. Senate Bill 2 aims to help at-risk students just like Deane.
The proposed SB 2 would create state-funded, flexible, spending accounts for individual students. Parents can use the funds to pay for Department of Education-approved educational expenses such as non-public school tuition, higher education tuition, textbooks and curriculum, testing and industry certifications. Eligible expenses for children with disabilities would also include occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapies. Parents will receive a portion of the statewide average funding per pupil (between $5,000 and $6,000), and students with special needs will be eligible for additional support based on their disability. Unused funds roll over from one year to the next. Unspent ESA dollars can even be used to pay for college.
Under DiSanto’s plan, families in the low-performing school districts would have access to a state-funded, flexible spending account through an ESA. Families could direct the funds to a qualified school that best meets the needs of their child or to pay for other support to help their child succeed.
Shannon Lawson, whose daughter is able to attend her school of choice through Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, also applauded the proposal, “We needed an educational opportunity outside of what we were given. Because of that, we weren’t held by our zip code, we weren’t held by our income to get her the education she needed to excel.”
Lance Deane is now a mentor and tutor for the Joshua Group programs. He is giving back to the community that helped him. Lawson’s daughter is an honor roll student and aspiring author. Senate Bill 2 aims to give many more students the same chance for success.
“Too many Pennsylvania children are consigned to chronically underperforming schools that fail to prepare students for college or careers. Families without the means or good fortune face significantly limited educational opportunities,” said Senator DiSanto. “Waitlists for charter schools and tax credit scholarships are in the tens of thousands. ESAs significantly expand opportunities for students seeking a better education.”
State senators Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and Mike Regan (R-Cumberland) as well as Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) were also in attendance and voiced their support for Senate Bill 2.