Voucher advocate makes case ahead of state vote

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Perhaps as soon as this week the legislature in Harrisburg could vote on legislation that would allow poor children in chronically failing schools to go to another school, including private, charter or religious schools via a voucher program, and Dawn Chavous wants to make sure poor Black families know about it.

Chavous, chair of the Students First Political Action Committee, is a Philadelphia mother who says poor children shouldn’t be forced to get a sub-standard education just because of where they live.

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DAWN CHAVOUS

She stopped by the New Pittsburgh Courier to explain her efforts June 17, along with former Pittsburgh School Board Member Randall Taylor amid a whirlwind of press appearances organized by publisher Luther Sewell.

“I live around the corner from West Philadelphia High School, which has a 60 percent drop-out rate. In the same neighborhood, Boys Latin Charter School and West Philadelphia Catholic School are sending 96 percent of their students to college,” she said. “It’s the same population of kids. At West Philadelphia Catholic, 70 percent are scholarship students, non-catholic, enrolled in the school lunch program, and Black.”

Chavous has been advocating for school choice since before Governor Corbett indicated it was one of his priorities in January. Prior to that she supported state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, who made school choice a mainstay of his bid for the Governor’s office.

Currently there are two bills, one in the State House and one in the State Senate, that would give families with children in failing schools the state portion of the school’s funding allotment to use toward tuition at any other school of their choice.

Taylor said, for a child in the Pittsburgh School District, the amount would be about $8,500.

“Ultimately it’s about supporting these kids,” he said. “I think a voucher proposal is very progressive and pro-Black.”

The House version, HB1330, has already passed. The Senate’s SB 1, has been bottled up in committee. Both would increase school choice eligibility to all low-income students, regardless of school, over four years through expansion via the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

SB 1 also calls for the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit to $100 million, allowing even more businesses to fund scholarships in lieu of paying income tax.

Yesterday, Corbett and legislators on both the Senate and House sides said they were willing to compromise on a two-year plan in order to get something passed before the June 30 budget deadline.

“If that happens we can start getting families ready so they can take advantage of it beginning in the 2012/13 school year,” said Chavous. “We expect a challenge from teachers unions but we also expect to prevail.”

Chavous said successful public schools should not be worried, because no one would leave. And for schools that do lose students, they still keep the local and federal funding allocations, so they will have more money and fewer students.

Representative Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, who proposed the house bill, said he would introduce a two-year voucher proposal June 21.

A spokesman for Senate Education Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin County, said he too would help negotiate a compromise for a two-year voucher program along with expanded business-paid scholarships through a state tax credit program.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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