This week the PA State Senate Education Committee advanced a bill to help students escape failing schools by providing them and their parents with a “lifeline” opportunity to choose a different school.

What was striking (and frankly at times entertaining) was how the senators’ comments revealed their perspectives on education, parents, teachers, and the proper role of government.

Bill sponsor Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair) clearly and eloquently presented the need for these lifeline scholarships, given that the public school system is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every student. She said she wants to bring hope and opportunity to those who feel trapped in a poor or unsafe school environment. Senator Ward summed up the bill well: parents should determine their children’s educational needs, not zip codes. 

In opposition to the bill, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) read a list of organizations that are fighting against the bill – which amounted to a “who’s who” of government employee unions like the PSEA (state teachers’ union), other public education establishment groups, and – get this – Planned Parenthood!  If you ever wondered whether pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood have a target on your children, wonder no more.

A highlight was when Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) (who immediately followed Sen. Comitta) boldly remarked that her list of opposing groups “represented the Education Industrial Complex” but was missing the key constituency: namely parents.

Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) was the lone Democrat member who voted in support of Lifeline Scholarships in committee. Williams, a long-time advocate for school choice, passionately challenged his colleagues and the opposing organizations to “come to my district, talk to the parents, talk to the students, talk to the teachers.” He went on to say that he does not care how many big groups oppose these lifelines – he is in office to support his constituents who so desperately need a way out of failing schools.  

The Lifeline Plan

Senate Bill 795 would make Lifeline Scholarships available to children whose families feel trapped in failing school zones. This scholarship would be an absolute game changer for families in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in Pennsylvania where school districts fall in the bottom 15 percent of performance metrics based on state testing. 

Students who live within the attendance area of a low-achieving school deserve access to the educational alternatives like Lifeline Scholarship Accounts. It could be used toward tuition, fees, and textbooks.

Lifeline Scholarship Accounts would directly fund students, helping families with children in the lowest-rated school districts choose a school where that child can thrive educationally. There is built-in accountability because we know that ultimately parents know which schools best serve the needs of their children. Parents have the right to choose where their children attend school and we should empower more parents to provide their child a better solution for success in education.

The action to support Lifeline Scholarships by the PA Senate Education Committee is a great first step – but there is more to go. SB 795 will now go to the full Senate for a vote. Please take action here and ask your legislator to vote YES on this important legislation!