ERIE, Pa. — The state Senate Education Committee is considering the Education Savings Account Act.
If Senate Bill No. 2 becomes law, it would set aside state tax dollars for students who are zoned to underperforming schools that are in the bottom 15 percent.
That money would be taken away from state funding provided to the respective district and put toward the students’ costs of attending non-public schools.
“This bill really would be devastating to the Erie School District,” said Brian Polito, superintendent of the Erie’s Public Schools.
Polito said there are approximately 2,000 students that live in the district, but currently attend private or parochial schools. He said if all of those students were to receive the money, the district would lose around $17.5 million.
“That’s more than even the $14 million that we just received,” he said, referring to the annual state funds that were promised to the district. “So, it wouldn’t be very long before we would become insolvent.”
The crisis could be worsened, if there were an exodus of current students.
“I think most of our schools would qualify for that. So, there is also the potential for additional students to take that option and leave the district.”
That risk could be alleviated by improving test scores.
School board president Frank Petrungar said, “Our new year is about getting those grades up, getting those scores up, and learning to teach our kids better.”
In the meantime, the district learning Wednesday that Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-District 49, who has opposed the bill and helped to secure the $14 million in recurring funds, has left the Senate Education Committee. He was appointed early Wednesday to the Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.
Laughlin said, When I joined the Senate my primary goal was to bring financial relief to the Erie School District. Thankfully, we were able to accomplish that.”
He added, “My main focus now is to bring jobs back to Erie and the best place for me to have a strong influence in those matters is to serve as a member of this important committee.
Polito said, “We’re, absolutely, in constant communication with our Sen. Dan Laughlin. He’s been very supportive of the district, and I’m certain will continue to advocate to ensure that we continue with our fiscal stability.
The Senate held its last session for 2017 on Wednesday. They will reconvene on Jan. 22.