Legislative Watch — Pennsylvania bill advances; Georgia, Maryland and Ohio file similar measures

Pennsylvania’s proposed Opportunity Scholarship (SB 1) made it through a key Senate education committee today, passing by an 8-2 margin, with two Democrats voting in favor.

Democrats in opposition to the measure had proposed several amendments — some addressing funding mechanisms, others adding regulations on faith-based schools that accept scholarship students — most of which were voted down during the morning hearing. With the exception of committee chair Jeffrey Piccola, the bill’s prime sponsor, most of the debate pitted Democrat versus Democrat. At one point, Democratic bill co-sponsor Sen. Anthony Williams shot back at Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach, taking offense at the accusation that he was behaving like an “ideologue.”

The bill provides private school tuition assistance to low-income students who, in the first year of the program, attend the state’s “persistently lowest-achieving schools.” But by the third year, low-income children anywhere in Pennsylvania would be eligible.

The vote comes after several days of legislative activity on school choice measures nationwide, during which tuition tax credit legislation was filed in several states.

Among the new bills:

Maryland: HB 932 and SB 315 would establish the Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers (BOAST) tax credit, resurrecting an effort that died in a legislative committee last spring but which had the support of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Ohio: SB 65 would eliminate the limit on the number of Educational Choice scholarships; SB 88 would establish tax credit scholarships for low-income students; and SB 136 would enact the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program, or PACT, and create a special education scholarship program.

Georgia: HB 325 and HB 369 address student scholarship organizations and the state’s education income tax credit

In other updates, Oklahoma’s proposed Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act (SB 969) passed a key education committee last week

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BY Amy Graham

Amy Graham is a policy analyst who recently joined Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income children. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Amy previously worked as a legislative analyst for the Florida Senate and as an education policy analyst focused on school choice programs for the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education. She also is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University.