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PA House Bill Would Divert CARES Act Money to School Vouchers

Critics say HB 2696 would divert CARES Act money away from public schools already facing a $1 billion local revenue shortfall. (Drazen/Adobe Stock)
Critics say HB 2696 would divert CARES Act money away from public schools already facing a $1 billion local revenue shortfall. (Drazen/Adobe Stock)
October 1, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania House Education Committee is scheduled to vote today on a bill that critics say would divert federal CARES Act money to fund a new school voucher program.

The Keystone State has about $1.3 billion in unspent CARES Act money.

Pennsylvania House Bill 2696 would put $500 million of that into a new state program that includes school vouchers for students at private and religious schools.

Christopher Lilienthal, assistant director of communications for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, contends that would appear to fall outside the parameters of the federal law.

"It is applying this money toward a program that is not directly related to COVID-19, the pandemic or any of the associated costs," Lilienthal stated.

He said those funds are intended to address expenses directly related to the pandemic.

The bill's sponsor said the vouchers would help students whose education has been disrupted.

But Lilienthal pointed out 90% of Pennsylvania's children attend public schools, not the schools the vouchers would pay for, and those public schools are in trouble.

"Right now, we know that public school districts across the Commonwealth are struggling to address a $1 billion dollar local revenue shortfall that arose as a result of this pandemic and its economic effects," Lilienthal said.

He called the bill an attempt by a small group of legislators to shift public funds from public education to tuition assistance for religious and private schools.

Lilienthal said the impact of the pandemic on public education is much more than a loss of revenue at the district level.

"There are additional expenses this year related to face coverings, hand sanitizer, certain PPE as well as certain expenses related to counselors and psychologists and mental health concerns for students," Lilienthal added.

A similar bill will be the subject of a public hearing in the Pennsylvania State Senate next week.

Disclosure: The Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA