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Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Governor's Voucher Proposal Fails To Find Support in Pa. Legislature

Governor's Voucher Proposal Fails To Find Support in Pa. Legislature

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Despite a flurry of last-minute activity, Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was forced to concede early last Thursday morning that his school voucher proposal was dead in the legislature, at least for now.

The Republican governor's failure to get a vote on the issue before the legislature's summer break, which began last week, thwarts his hopes of having a voucher program in place for the 1999-2000 school year.

"The document was in constant change, and that is what probably ultimately led to it not being introduced," said Anthony Aliano, a Republican research analyst for the House education committee.

In the weeks leading up to the recess, Mr. Ridge offered a variety of proposals in hopes of winning votes from the GOP-controlled Senate and House. The ideas included a statewide pilot program and a plan to make state-financed vouchers an option in some low-performing districts.

Another idea would have allowed school boards to use local funds to provide students with vouchers to pay tuition at private and religious schools. Lawmakers considered various options all through the night of June 16-17.

"The dilemma has been that every time they attempt to tweak the proposal to get a majority, they seem to lose support," said Ronald R. Cowell, a former Democratic state legislator and the president of the Education and Policy Leadership Center, which is a resource group for policymakers in Harrisburg.

Not Over Yet

Gov. Ridge is a veteran of voucher fights, having lost two bids for such tuition aid in his first term. But he told reporters at the 4 a.m. press briefing last Thursday that he would not give up.

"It's not about the governor," said Mr. Ridge, who was re-elected to a second term last November. "It's about children and parents having options."

Vouchers have been a contentious item in other state legislatures this year. Florida lawmakers passed the nation's first statewide voucher plan this spring; Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, could sign the measure this week.

On the other hand, Gov. Ridge was not the only chief executive to lose a voucher fight this year. Another Republican, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, also lost his bid to get legislators to pass a state voucher pilot project.

Mr. Ridge's defeat came at a poor time, some in Pennsylvania say, because Mr. Bush of Texas, considered the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination next year, will be in Pennsylvania this week. Mr. Ridge is viewed as a possible vice presidential running mate.

"It was never spoken, but the subtext of national politics was a factor" during Pennsylvania's voucher debate, said Wythe Keever, the spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association and a staunch opponent of vouchers. "This would have been a big voucher plan. It would have gotten [Governor Ridge] a lot of national press."

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 21

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