Pennsylvania bishops praise governor's school voucher plan

Gov Tom Corbett CNA US Catholic News 10 11 11 Gov. Tom Corbett

The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania are applauding Gov. Tom Corbett for approving school vouchers within the state and increasing the local Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

“School choice is the right choice for Pennsylvania,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said in reaction to the news.

“It will give families the freedom to educate their children as they see fit, and it offers real alternatives for underprivileged families who seek to give their children a chance to succeed.”

On Oct. 11, Corbett announced his new tuition voucher program which will help low-income students who rank academically in the bottom 5 percent of public schools transfer to the school of their choice.

Additionally, students from households with incomes at or under 130 percent of the federal poverty level would be allowed to take the individual state subsidy their district receives for them and apply it to another public or private school.

The plan will also enable the state to grant charters to charter schools, a power that was reserved for local school districts.

“I recognize that there are many good schools in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said during his announcement  at the Lincoln Charter School in York, Pa.

“But there are also failing schools, and we have to recognize this,” Corbett said. “We can not run from that.”

Although Gov. Corbett's plan is already being criticized by the Pennsylvania State Education Association—the state's largest teacher's union that has long opposed voucher programs—Archbishop Chaput called the decision “a clarion call to the people of Pennsylvania.”

“As citizens, we face a pivotal opportunity to improve the lives and enrich the minds of our children,” he underscored.

Some Catholic schools in the U.S. have seen a spike in enrollment this year as the school choice movement gains traction. As of August 2011, 18 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted policies that support school vouchers.

Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and Educational Research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told EWTN News on Aug. 30 that voucher programs have “gained momentum” due to parental as well as political support.

The Pennsylvania bishops called for legislative action in their state in an Oct. 4 statement last week, arguing that school choice “is not a public versus non-public school issue; it is a family and child issue.”

They also outlined the financial benefits of voucher programs for the local government.

“With fewer students in public school, some of the financial pressure will be lessened on state and local budgets,” they said, noting that the state's 500 Catholic schools are “the largest provider of non-public education in the Commonwealth.”

“These schools educate both Catholics and non-Catholics in an academically excellent and nurturing environment,” the bishops added. “This essential service not only helps to create new generations of productive and engaged citizens, but also by saves over $4 billion tax dollars annually.”

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