Senator pushes plan to get students out of poor-performing schools

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Lance Deane was born in Harrisburg to a single, teenage mom.

“She barely graduated high school but always wanted more for me and my brother, working three jobs,” Deane recalled during a news conference in the city Tuesday.

Deane’s mom wanted more. He and his brother got more thanks to a tax credit scholarship. They left city schools and went to Bishop McDevitt High School. Lance recently graduated from Kutztown University. He is a teacher. He knows many his age in his neighborhood weren’t so lucky.

“Some of them, unfortunately, are in jail. Some of them are dead,” Lance said.

To save more Lances, Sen. John DiSanto is pushing a bill that would create education savings accounts for parents whose public school performs in the bottom 15 percent statewide. In basic terms, he’d take $5,700 taxpayer dollars from the roughly $16,000 per-pupil expenditure and create a restricted account. Parents would withdraw their child from the failing school and could use the money for private, parochial, tutoring, even home schooling. DiSanto insists it won’t bankrupt public schools

“No, not at all because they’ll have one less child in the classroom, but they’re gonna have $10,000 they can utilize,” he said, referring to the per-pupil money that isn’t put into the education savings account.

The statewide teachers union, PSEA, disagrees with DiSanto’s plan. A statement read in part: “Here we go again. Before wasting taxpayer money on tuition voucher schemes that are proven failures, lawmakers should make sure that our public schools are fully and fairly funded.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association also opposes DiSanto’s plan.

“It’s taking public tax dollars away from the public schools and giving them to private and parochial schools,” PSBA spokesman Steve Robinson said. “We believe first and foremost that our public tax dollars should be used to fund the public education system.”

DiSanto expected the opposition. Plans to give parents school choice with taxpayer dollars have been floated in Harrisburg for decades and for decades they’ve failed.

“I think there’s entrenched special interests that don’t want the way the schools operate, the way programs run, to change,” DiSanto said.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse supports the plan. So do Shannon and Robert Lawson of Harrisburg, who put three girls through Christian school thanks to the existing tax credit. That’s good, they say, but more is needed. There are far more people who have applied for and want scholarships than funding available.

“I would love to see others like us be able to experience what we have and see their children excel in ways beyond their expectations,” Shannon Lawson said.

It’s an uphill political fight in the Capitol, but Senator Mike Regan (R-York/Cumberland) says it’s a fight worth having for kids trapped in Harrisburg and elsewhere; kids like Lance.

“If we’re letting that single mom put their kid in a good school, what does that do?” Regan asked while choking back tears. “It keeps people out of prison. It keeps people off probation and off parole.”

“I didn’t come from much. I didn’t have much, but I had an opportunity,” Lance said, also getting emotional.

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