– Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) circulated a co-sponsor memo today for legislation to allow students in Harrisburg City schools to attend a school of their choice through tuition scholarships.
“Every child deserves access to quality education, and we have a responsibility to ensure that families who cannot afford that education receive assistance to do it,” said Turzai, a perennial proponent of education who has consistently supported legislation to increase basic education spending and successfully sponsored legislation to increase the Educational Improvement Tax Credit. “In some situations, the needs of Pennsylvania children require comprehensive intervention to make sure they receive a proper education.”
The Harrisburg School District has remained among the worst-performing Pennsylvania schools for decades, despite sustained efforts at reform, both locally and through state involvement. From 2000 through 2010, the state placed the district under the control of the mayor through the Education Empowerment Act. In 2012, the state placed the district in financial recovery status. In June, the district entered state receivership.
“Harrisburg’s problems do not stem from a lack of funding. In the 2017-18 school year, the Harrisburg School District’s revenue was $147 million, or more than $22,500 for each of its 6,500 students. This is nearly twice the national average
of $11,400 per student,” the Speaker noted. “More than 57% of Harrisburg’s funding – $84.5 million – came from the state, rather than local taxes. Elsewhere in the state, we have tried giving substantial additional funds to poorly managed school districts, and the results have been discouraging. It is time for a different approach to fix under-performing schools.”
Turzai’s bill establishes a pilot scholarship program to help the children of Harrisburg City schools affordably attend a nearby private or other public school. It would require a receiver appointed to any school district of the second class, in a city of the third class, within a county of the third class, to establish a program of scholarship grants available to all students. Nearby school districts would have the choice to opt in to accept Harrisburg students. Similar state-involved scholarship programs have worked for students in struggling schools in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Racine, Wis.
Currently, Harrisburg is the only such school district in Pennsylvania that is under receivership, but statewide, 13 districts of the second class are in cities of the third class, within counties of the third class. Any of these districts would fall under this legislation, if they enter receivership.
The scholarships would be, at a minimum, half of the per-student Basic Education Funding subsidy received by the school district from the state. For Harrisburg, this number was $8,200 in the most recent school year, thereby creating a minimum $4,100 scholarship that would be given by Harrisburg schools.
In addition to the minimum scholarship grant from the local school district, the state would provide an additional $3,000 for each student who receives a scholarship grant. Combined, the estimated $7,100 scholarship would provide affordability for Harrisburg children to attend most of the private schools in the region.
Representative Mike Turzai
Speaker of the House
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Christine Goldbeck
717.787.7977 (office) 570.205.0736 (cell)