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Battle Brewing Over Proposed School Vouchers For PA

January 25, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A face-off is taking shape over school vouchers in Pennsylvania. On one side are state lawmakers who claim vouchers would help low-income parents get their children out of failing schools and into a school of their choice. On the other side are those who say the idea amounts to abandoning public schools.

James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest public-school employees' union, says 82 percent of public schools in the state met the federal standard for adequate yearly progress in 2010, and the voucher proposal turns its back on those that didn't.

"We need to get in there and roll up our sleeves and work on making those schools as good as the schools in the surrounding communities, but we're going to need supports to help those students be successful."

Testerman says the measure on the table, Senate Bill 1, also holds no guarantees that private and religious schools where parents may want to send their children will accept them.

"They will not have to take students with special needs. They will not have to take students who struggle the most to learn. We have done nothing to fix the system."

Testerman says Pennsylvania students would be better served if problems in districts not making the grade were tackled more aggressively.

"We realize that we may have to get outside of our comfort zone to help these kids, but we also recognize that parents, community leaders (and) business leaders must be at the table with us to make a difference for these kids."

Voucher supporters call the plight of children stuck in failing schools a civil rights issue. PSEA says vouchers would be an expensive new government program that would leave the most vulnerable students in underfunded public schools.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA