HARRISBURG, April 19, 2011 – The hundreds of students and parents descending on the Capitol last week brought another boost of support for a bill meant to rescue working- and middle-class families from underperforming or violent schools their children are forced to attend.
And if state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams has his way, the bill will be on the governor’s desk this year.
Williams (D-Philadelphia and Delaware), co-author of Senate Bill 1, the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act, wants to ensure that none of Pennsylvania’s children are denied a quality education simply because of their zip code or household’s income.
Since introducing the bill with co-sponsor state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin and York), Williams has battled fiercely to enact it – leading a crop of bi-partisan lawmakers and a host of grassroots activists such as those who gathered last Tuesday to cheer its passage.
SB 1 has been voted out of both the education and appropriations committees and is on its way toward enactment, which would be a clear victory for all families, Williams said.
“Too many parents throughout Pennsylvania, through no fault of their own, have children trapped in failing schools,” said Williams, the son of an educator and a beneficiary of a scholarship-funded private education. “They are trapped because their parents cannot afford to move to a better school district or afford to pay for private school. This legislation will empower these parents to make the same choices that other parents make about where their children attend school.”
Under SB 1, parents would have two ways to access a better school for their child – without raising taxes.
The first is by shifting dollars in the state’s General Fund to increase the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which allows businesses of any size operating in the state to send their tax dollars directly to scholarship or educational enrichment programs, such as local museums, after-school tutorials, libraries and more.
Examples of local EITC beneficiaries range from the Franklin Institute to the African American Museum in Philadelphia to Congreso de Latinos Unidos to the Philadelphia Zoo.
Pushing the EITC cap from $75 to $100 million dollars would boost the number of scholarships available at certified private or faith-based schools, increase out-of-school academic improvement activities and allow more businesses to directly impact their communities for the better.
The second is by shifting dollars the state normally would send to persistently failing schools and instead send vouchers to parents whose children attend those schools and who meet certain financial criteria. It would allow low-income students meeting admittance criteria to attend another public school or a private, charter, cyber or faith-based one.
SB 1 has received broad-based, bi-partisan support statewide. The racially diverse crowd at Tuesday’s rally, representing charter, public and religious schools from every corner of the state, spoke in one unified voice, encouraged by words from Gov. Tom Corbett.
From large labor unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 and the Laborers’ District Council of the Metropolitan Area of Philadelphia to small businesses – all have found common ground through this legislation. The list of supporters grows daily.
Once the full Senate votes on the measure, it would be introduced in the state House of Representatives. The Senate vote is expected by the end of the month.
Williams said achieving real school reform requires a multi-pronged approach, from stepping up science, technology, engineering and math studies to dismantling out-of-date mandates to rewarding strong teachers. SB 1 is one element of Advancing Public Education, his comprehensive plan for improving Pennsylvania’s academic outlook.
He acknowledges that there are loud voices decrying this bill and compares them to similar ones that spoke out against charter school creation in the ‘90s, where he again was at the forefront in the battle for educational equity.
“We are fighting against very organized and well-funded opposition. They have a vested interest in defeating this bill as they did in 1996 when they claimed they needed more time and money,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, protecting their interests has done little to help educate our children. Nearly two decades and billions of dollars later, little has changed. We have lost another generation; we still have students languishing in failing
“We need to give our children a lifeline to a successful future. Senate Bill 1 is that lifeline,” he added.
To find out more about Advancing Public Education, including Senate Bill 1 and to see if you qualify for EITC assistance or an Opportunity Scholarship, please visit www.senatoranthonyhwilliams.com.
What the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act
could mean for you and your family:
* If you meet certain financial and other criteria, Senate Bill 1 would provide a scholarship for your child to attend a public, private, charter or
parochial school of your choosing.
* With an increase in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit funding from $75 million to $100 million, more financial assistance would be available for working class and middle class families to use to send their children to
a private or faith-based school.
* Various civic organizations and institutions used by you and your family – such as an after-school tutorial program, area library or museum – could receive even more needed additional financial support.
* Your community benefits by having an educated workforce. That means it would be easier to attract new businesses to our state and region. That is good news for every Pennsylvanian.
* An educated population means fewer of your tax dollars would need to be spent on social programs and incarceration.
Visit www.senatoranthonyhwilliams.com for more on Senate Bill 1 – and how your family could benefit.
If You Go…
The office of state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, with Students First and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, will hold a town hall meeting on Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act – on Monday, April 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 1101 Main St., Darby. For details, call (215) 492-2980 or visit www.senatoranthonyhwilliams.com.
The office of state Sen. Anthony H. Williams, with Students First and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, will hold a town hall meeting on Senate Bill 1 – the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act – on Thursday, April 28, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Boys Latin Charter School, 5501 Cedar Ave., Philadelphia. For details, call (215) 492-2980 or visit www.senatoranthonyhwilliams.com.