The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference continued its efforts to work for funding for parents of school-age children, going before the Senate Education Committee on Oct. 5. The PCC was joined by others taking up the fight for school choice in Pennsylvania.
The hearing was called to discuss Senate Bill 1230 by Senator Judy Ward. The bill references the “Back on Track Education Scholarship Account Program,” which would make a $1,000 per-student stimulus available to eligible families to help them afford educational expenses.
The PCC and other groups support the measure, which also has opponents. The chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford, Cambria, Clearfield) commented at the beginning of the hearing that this bill has already received “swift and very vocal support, as well as opposition.”
At the hearing, Rich Askey, the President of the Pennsylvania Education Association, joined other officials connected with public schools across the state in opposition to SB 1230, calling it a wall between public and nonpublic schools and a measure that does not provide accountability for nonpublic schools.
There was at least some pushback from the senators on those standing against the measure.
“Whether you like this bill, or don’t like the bill, what is happening in our schools is a problem,” said Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester). Dinniman has long supported providing for quality education for all students. “We have to come together to solve this problem and we have to stop the educational wars that go on.”
Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) said he supports Sen. Ward’s approach and that it’s important to get all the groups working together.
“I think the way to build bridges is by focusing on a student-centered approach,” Sen. Aument said. “Focusing on the best interests of students, first and foremost, and not in what is in the best interests of institutions.”
Representatives from the Commonwealth Foundation were on hand to present their testimony in support of Sen. Ward’s bill, with Colleen Hroncich saying the only people that really know what’s best for the kids is their parents.
Sean McAleer, Director of Education for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, noted how very often the nonpublic schools are not included in discussions about funding. McAleer also detailed the constant work that he and his colleagues do to try to maintain the services mandated by the state, including nursing and busing. He also related how Catholic schools were prevented from getting their fair share of the federal CARES Act funding that was awarded this past summer.
“They were supposed to distribute a proportionate share,” he said. “But the state – from day one – decided to do something else and use another formula for funding,” he said.
McAleer also pointed out that Catholic schools serve a large portion of low-income students and a large portion of non-Catholic students.
Sen. Dinniman asked McAleer how Catholic schools were able to make a smooth transition from in-person learning to virtual learning last March, when so many public schools were unable to do so. McAleer said the credit goes to the bishops, teachers and the administrators who were determined to make things work.
SB 1230 remains in the Senate Education Committee. The next step would be a call for a vote in the committee.
Stay connected to news and updates from the PCC at www.pacatholic.org.
(Al Gnoza is the Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.)
By Al Gnoza, Special to The Witness