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Pa. Governor Unveils Details of Statewide Voucher Plan

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By 2000, every family in Pennsylvania making $70,000 or less would be eligible for a tuition voucher that children could use to attend any public, private, or religious school in the state, under a plan Gov. Tom Ridge proposed last week.

The Governor unveiled the details of what would be the nation's first statewide school-voucher program as part of a reform plan called kids--the Keystone Initiative for a Difference in our Schools.

"We must open a broader menu of options for parents who are struggling to provide a good education for their kids," Mr. Ridge said in announcing the initiative, which includes support for charter schools and more local control.

The Republican Governor announced his intention two months ago to propose a statewide voucher plan. The promised scope of the program had surprised his critics and supporters alike. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

'Opportunity Grants'

Under Mr. Ridge's design, the state would offer grants to families making $15,000 or less in the first year of the program, $20,000 or less in the second, and $25,000 or less in the third. The income ceiling would rise to $70,000 by the 2000-01 school year.

State officials said more than 52,000 students from Pennsylvania's 167 poorest districts would be eligible in the first year, half of them from Philadelphia.

The "educational-opportunity grants" would amount to $350 for half-time kindergarten students, $700 for K-8 students, and $1,000 for high school students--or 90 percent of the actual tuition costs, whichever was less.

Students could apply the money toward tuition at private or parochial schools.

For example, tuition at Roman Catholic high schools in Philadelphia will be $2,750 next year, so parents choosing this option would have to get financial aid or make up the difference themselves.

Eligible students also could use the opportunity grants to attend a public school outside their districts. Students would take the grants with them, in addition to the state's basic per-pupil allocation, as credit toward the tuition charge in the receiving district.

So high school students from Philadelphia, for example, who chose to enroll in the suburban Lower Merion district would take with them $1,000, plus the state's per-pupil subsidy of $2,600.

The annual tuition in Lower Merion for nonresident secondary school students is $10,000.

That would leave a tuition balance of $6,400.

Prospects Are Mixed

Under Mr. Ridge's proposal, parents would be responsible for one-third of the difference between the state contribution and the tuition, or in this case, about $2,133.

The Governor's bill is expected to clear the Senate, but will face a tough vote in the House. Though Republicans are in the majority in both chambers, they outnumber Democrats by only one in the House.

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