PSEA president urges Senate committee to invest in proven solutions rather than costly private school tuition voucher program

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PSEA president urges Senate committee to invest in proven solutions rather than costly private school tuition voucher program

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Chris Lilienthal (717) 255-7134
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HARRISBURG, PA (Oct. 5, 2020) – PSEA President Rich Askey today urged the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee to oppose legislation that would divert hundreds of millions of Pennsylvania’s federal CARES Act dollars to unaccountable private schools and private educational services.

Instead, policymakers should continue to work with education allies to craft real solutions that will support schools and students in a way that doesn’t take advantage of the pandemic to establish a statutory framework for vouchers.

“There is no question that students, families, and educators are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including the learning gap created by the necessary closure of schools last spring,” Askey testified before the committee. “The real question now is, what solutions will lawmakers offer to bolster the students and communities that need the most support to help close this gap?

“Without another round of federal fiscal relief on the horizon, it becomes all the more essential that Pennsylvania lawmakers invest remaining CARES Act funding into essential, evidence-based proven programs or closing the state budget deficit.”

The committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 1230, which would commit up to $500 million of CARES Act funding to a proposed “Education Savings Account” program. Money from these accounts could be used to pay certain costs at private and religious schools, including tuition and fees. This would seem to violate the CARES Act requirement that expenses directly relate to COVID-19 and are incurred before the end of the calendar year.

During his testimony, Askey focused on the harmful impact that Senate Bill 1230 will have on the vast majority of students at a time when the state’s school districts are facing massive budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic.

“The predictability that you and your colleagues provided to the education community through your commitment to a full year of level-funding in the 2020-21 budget has been invaluable, and we thank you for that,” Askey said. “But this still does not protect school districts from the potential loss of up to $1 billion in local revenue, while at the same time providing essential equipment, instruction, and social supports for the safe opening of schools. School districts are also grappling with increased costs for COVID mitigation and increased charter and cyber charter tuition costs.

“As of today, well over 1,000 public school employees have been furloughed. Continuity of education cannot be provided if public schools are forced to reduce essential programs and furlough thousands of classroom teachers, school nurses, psychologists, counselors and social workers, reading specialists, and instructional paraprofessionals as well as education support professionals who keep our students — and our school facilities — healthy, clean, and safe.”

Askey called on senators to oppose Senate Bill 1230 and instead look to the school safety grant program, which provides support to both public and non-public schools, as a model to support students and families.

Askey’s full testimony to the Senate Education Committee is attached to this press release.

Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 180,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.