Harrisburg, Oct. 26 2011 – State Sen. Jim Brewster today said he was disappointed in the state Senate’s approval of voucher legislation

“Ninety-five percent of the students in schools across Pennsylvania will receive no benefit from the school voucher program,” Brewster said.  “Yet the families of these students will bear the burden of paying for the new program.  Eighty-eight of 143 schools where students are eligible for vouchers are located in Philadelphia.  Even in this region of Pennsylvania, only those income-eligible students would be offered a voucher.

“Looking at the high cost, limited availability and local real estate tax increases necessary to pay for the vouchers made my decision an easy one.”

Brewster predicted that once the program expands, school district mergers would become more common. Mergers often cause much pain and aggravation for those involved.  He said local school boards lose control of their school districts.

Brewster voted against the voucher bill, even though he strongly favors a separate provision in the measure that would expand Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) for businesses that make donations to private and religious schools.

“Senator Jim Ferlo has introduced legislation to greatly expand the EITC program that can benefit all public, private, Catholic, and charter students in the state.  This school choice program already exists and has a proven track record of success” Brewster said.  “If the legislature wants true school choice, increasing the funding to the EITC program is the best manner to accomplish that goal.

“Our responsibility is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed,” Brewster said.  “Vouchers do not accomplish this goal.  There are many families who have been misled into believing vouchers would benefit them when the reality is completely the opposite. The middle class residents will pay for the program and receive no benefit.

“The voucher program does not go to the root cause of the failure in the schools eligible for vouchers.  Until parental responsibility and discipline is reintroduced into the public school system, we will continue to face the same problems.  Vouchers will not overcome these shortcomings.

“Majority Republicans cut state public school subsidies by more than $900 million this year,” Brewster said. “Our schools cannot afford to lose any more financial resources. Yet this bill further siphons scarce education dollars away from struggling schools.

“I’m also skeptical about how many low income students this bill would really help. It is estimated that only five percent of qualifying students would participate in the vouchers program. The proposal includes a number of exceptions and pitfalls.”

Brewster accused voucher supporters of falsely leaving the impression that ‘school choice would be available to all students. In fact, low-income students in many schools would not qualify and middle-income students are ineligible.

“Meanwhile, no one seems to know what this voucher program would cost,” Brewster exclaimed. “The initial price tag is estimated at $43 million for the first year, growing to $95 million in the fourth year, but the costs – and supporting taxes — could grow much higher since this legislation gives Harrisburg bureaucrats the authority to  control and expand the program in the future.

Brewster added that other states and cities that have implemented vouchers have reported mixed results at best.  There are no clear statistics that show vouchers improve student performance.

“We need to reform education and make significant changes that help all students and all schools,” Brewster said.  “This bill begins the process of identifying winners and losers in education paid for by tax dollars.

Brewster said he would prefer a greater investment in programs that help all students and teachers in struggling schools, such as more tutoring, smaller class sizes, and curriculum choices.

The Senate approved the bill (Senate Bill 1) by a 27 to 22 vote. The measure now goes to the House for action.

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