Quick summary: House Bill 1800 (Rep. Turzai, R-Allegheny) establishes a voucher program for students in the Harrisburg School District, which entered state receivership in June, 2019. The legislation sets a precedent for expansion in other districts.
- The voucher amount is based on half of what the school district receives in Basic Education Funding per ADM, and the state would provide a matching tuition grant. It is not clear where the money would come from for the state match.
- Vouchers would be given to parents to use at participating nonpublic schools or school districts.
- Vouchers would be available to all students who reside in the district, benefitting families of students already enrolled in nonpublic schools. The school district will be forced to pay for students they currently are not responsible for now.
- There is no cap on the number of vouchers to be available and no income limits for families to receive the vouchers.
- The school district must provide transportation to voucher students.
- Under the bill, the state is not allowed to set any new requirements on nonpublic schools, including testing, data collection and accountability measures.
- Nonpublic schools do not have to alter their admissions criteria and can continue to pick and choose who they wish to enroll. They do not have to accept or retain students if the school doesn’t offer programs structured or equipped with the necessary facilities to meet a student’s special needs.
Status: Amended and approved by the House Education Committee on November 18, 2019 with a narrow vote of 13-12.
Provisions of Act 91
House Bill 1800 amends the School Code to establish a voucher program for students in the Harrisburg School District, which entered state receivership in June. The legislation sets a precedent for expansion in other districts – and in fact, using the definitions in the bill there are 13 school districts that would qualify for the voucher program if they enter receivership.
Applicability: When a receiver is appointed in a school district of the second class located in a city of the third class within a county of the third class, the receiver must establish a program of voucher tuition grants. The vouchers shall be available to all students residing within the attendance boundary of the school district. The vouchers may be used for a student to attend a nonpublic school or a participating public school.
Vouchers: The voucher amount shall be equal to or greater than 50% of the amount received by the school district for basic education funding for the prior year divided by the school district's average daily membership. All students receiving a tuition grant shall be included in the school district's average daily membership. The tuition grants are not considered taxable income or financial assistance.
Commonwealth match: The state shall provide a matching tuition grant equal to 50% of the amount received by the school district for basic education funding for the prior year divided by the school district's average daily membership for each student receiving a tuition grant. The amount of tuition grant cannot exceed the total amount of the tuition and fees.
Guidelines and process: The receiver shall develop and establish guidelines for the program, including developing an application form, processes and procedures, and deadlines. The receiver shall announce the award of the tuition vouchers by August 1 of each year. The receiver shall establish a payment schedule of one or more payments to the parents.
Notification: No later than each March 1, the receiver shall send written notification to the parents of each student eligible to receive a voucher and post on the district’s website all of the following information:
- A description of the tuition voucher program
- Instructions for applying for a tuition voucher
- Notice that a parent must directly contact a private school or participating public school if the parent seeks to enroll the student there.
Participating public schools: A school district may designate a school or schools that will accept students with a tuition voucher.
Financial recovery plan: The receiver must amend the financial recovery plan to include the voucher program.
Transportation: A student attending a nonpublic or participating public school with a tuition voucher shall be provided transportation within the district boundaries or at a distance not exceeding 10 miles from the district boundary.
Continuation of the voucher program after receivership exit: The voucher program shall continue if/when a school district exits a receivership. The duties of the receiver shall transition to the local school board.