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(The Center Square) – House lawmakers passed a measure Tuesday that expands the size and scope of tuition vouchers for Pennsylvania’s economically disadvantaged schools. 

Three Democrats joined all of the chamber’s Republicans in approving House Bill 1642, which lowers the threshold for schools to qualify as economically disadvantaged under the law. Currently, schools with 75% or more of students receiving tuition assistance through the Opportunity Tax Credit Scholarship (OSTC) program qualify for an additional $1,000 credit.

Under the provisions of the bill, sponsored by Philadelphia Republican Rep. Martina White, schools with 51% of students receiving the OSTC would qualify for the economically disadvantaged scholarship. Credit amounts would increase to $2,000 for elementary and middle school students and $4,000 for high school students to better reflect the gap between families’ ability to pay and the cost to educate, White said.

“We must find ways to reach more students trapped in underperforming schools,” she said. “While the Economically Disadvantaged Schools program has had a positive impact for some families in Pennsylvania, changes are needed to fine tune the program and to meet increased demand.” 

Schools that qualify for the program report state test scores that rank in the bottom 15%. Students in these districts can use the program, OSTC and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit scholarship to afford tuition at a private school or attend a different public school.

“This is a rare government program that creates win-win-win situations,” White said. “School districts and taxpayers win by saving money.”

Democrats remain skeptical of boosting state funding for programs that they say funnel money out of the public school system and into private and religious institutions.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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