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On World AIDS Day, New Mexico activists say more money is needed for prevention; ND farmers still navigate corporate land-ownership policy maze; Unpaid caregivers in ME receive limited financial grants.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken urges Israel to protect civilians amid Gaza truce talks, New York Rep. George Santos defends himself as his expected expulsion looms and CDC director warns about respiratory illness as flu season begins.

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Congress has iced the Farm Bill, but farmer advocates argue some portions are urgent, the Hoosier State is reaping big rewards from wind and solar, and opponents react to a road through Alaska's Brooks Range, long a dream destination for hunters and anglers.

House Bill Would Divert More Public Money to Private Schools

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017   

HARRISBURG, Pa. – State representatives in Harrisburg on Monday passed a bill that critics say would effectively divert state tax money to private and religious schools and other organizations. HB 250 would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $50 million, and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit by $25 million. The two programs already allow corporations up to $125 million in tax breaks for supporting private schools.

While not a direct expenditure of state funds, Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, points out that, in practice, HB 250 would accomplish virtually the same thing.

"What it does is, it reduces the money that's available for public education and everything else by $75 million," she said.

The bill's sponsors say HB 250 would expand school choice opportunities and help more students escape from failing schools. But according to Spicka, the law itself rules out verifying that the money actually is achieving that goal.

"The original law explicitly prohibits collecting any kind of information about whether or not students are leaving lower-achieving schools to go to higher-achieving schools, so we really have no idea which students are getting these scholarships," she explained.

The law also prohibits tracking achievement to determine if students perform better in the private schools.

Spicka adds that even families earning more than $100,000 are eligible to receive scholarships, and the schools themselves can pick and choose which students they take.

"These are schools that are allowed to discriminate against any student for any reason," she added. "So they can discriminate against students who are disabled, or are poor, or are students of color, and they can still receive these tax dollars."

HB 250 now goes to the state Senate for its consideration.


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